Could oil and gas discoveries solve Greece's problems?
By Gabriel Frangoulis
Many countries would like nothing more than to discover reserves of oil and gas, giving them energy independence and a source of wealth. Greece is no different.
There’s been a lot of hype about the possible existence of hydrocarbon reserves in the nation's Aegean and Ionian seas and in the country’s northwest, both by politicians and the media.
By the end of this year, we should have a much better idea of whether there is a grain of truth to these claims of hidden Greek wealth. The government is ready to kick-start the exploration process after several geological surveys suggested that the country’s territory could indeed be hiding hydrocarbon deposits.
Last month the Environment and Energy Ministry announced that it had received eight offers from 11 domestic and foreign companies for hydrocarbon exploration rights.
“Greece has one of the largest refining capacities in the Balkans, as well as one of the most strategic geopolitical locations in Europe, with an impeccable shipping industry that can actually provide Europe with natural gas,” said Chryssa Tsouraki, one of the organizers of the Cypriot-Greek Oil & Gas Summit in Larnaca last month.
Preliminary estimates made by experts commissioned by the Environment Ministry suggest a potential 22 billion barrels in the Ionian Sea off the coast of western Greece and more than 4 billion barrels in the Northern Aegean.
The area south of Crete is said to be particularly promising, while the Eastern Mediterranean, especially the area between Crete, Cyprus and Rhodes, is thought to be the location of sizable reserves of oil and natural gas.
However, Greece is one of the least explored countries in Europe as regards the search for fossil fuels.
Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition, Vassilis Kelessidis, professor of mineral resources at the Technical University of Crete, said that “petroleum geologists, both Greek and non-Greek, say that there is potential in Greece concerning hydrocarbons, oil and natural gas, and for the last couple of years we have been trying to have the Greek state speed up the process of exploration.”
Until now the offers for hydrocarbon exploration have concerned three blocks: The first is in the Gulf of Patra, the second off the coast of Katakolo -- both in Western Greece -- and the third at Ioannina, northwestern Greece.
Early estimates suggest that the Gulf of Patra may have 200 million barrels of crude oil, and that there are another 80 million at Ioannina and nearly 3 million off the coast of Katokolo.
Furthermore, according to the United States Geological Survey, in the sea between Crete, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, there are about 15 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and oil just waiting to be extracted.
Cyprus, which has already found vast reserves of natural gas -- 100 billion cubic meters, according to estimates -- could serve as an important example for Greece, particularly regarding how to exploit these reserves and help to solve the debt crisis that has now hit both countries.
Nicosia, which received 15 bids from international companies to develop nine offshore blocks, is now expecting to gain revenues from exports of oil and gas by 2019 or 2020.
Asked whether the discovery of hydrocarbons could be a way out of the crisis for Greece, Tsouraki said: “Yes, it could be in the near future. Once the political situation has been stabilized and the tension has alleviated, I believe that the right decisions are going to be made and Greece would be able to follow in the footsteps of Cyprus, which has recently discovered natural gas reserves.”
Exploiting these resources could prove a pivotal boost for Greece, which currently spends some 5 percent of its GDP on petroleum imports.
Although at the moment it is premature to make predictions, according to some oil experts, hydrocarbons beneath the seabed off the Greek coast could allow the country to repay almost all of its debt.
One estimate even suggests that exploitation of the reserves could bring in more than 302 billion dollars over 25 years.
Estimates alone mean nothing, though, unless Greece proceeds with the exploration and the identification of clear and detailed geological systems that meet the requirements for the generation and accumulation of oil.
[Kathimerini English Edition]