ATHENS, March 17 (Reuters) - Cyprus's cabinet on Friday approved contracts with France's Total, Italy's Eni , Exxon Mobil and Qatar Petroleum to explore for oil and gas in offshore areas south of the island, officials said.
Exploring the Mediterranean's Levant Basin has become more attractive since Eni discovered Egypt's offshore Zohr field in 2015, the biggest gas field in the Mediterranean and estimated to contain 850 billion cubic metres of gas. The Cypriot concessions cover exploration rights for three offshore blocks off the south and southwestern coast and contracts would be signed on April 5 and 6, Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis said.
Eni and Total are in a consortium for one of the blocks and ExxonMobil and Qatar have joined up for another. Eni will be on its own in a third block. The blocks were offered in the third licensing round held by Cyprus.
Total, which won rights for another block in a previous licensing round, planned to conduct drilling this year in Block 11, which borders the Zohr discovery, Lakkotrypis said.
Eni said last week said it had finalised a deal with Total to buy a 50 percent interest in Block 11, with Total remaining the operator.
The Italian firm planned to drill twice this year, Lakkotrypis said. "Precisely what block has not yet been defined, that will be acertained with greater clarity by seismic data," he added.
Noble Energy of the U.S. made Cyprus's first natural gas discovery offshore in 2011. (Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Edmund Blair)