HYDROCARBON EXPLORATION: NOW OR NEVER

Early in December 2011, Greece received a clear message from the country’s main creditors, the IMF and the European Union that it is imperative the plans for hydrocarbon exploration and production to be accelerated in the following months.

The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change announced an international tender for non-exclusive seismic surveys and afterwards issued another announcement inviting companies to participate in an “open” exploration process for three specific areas in Western Greece.

Greece, which consumes some 380,000 barrels of oil daily, relies on crude imports for 99.5 per cent of this quantity with the result that more than 5% of its GDP is spend on oil purchases. Indeed, the country has a great interest in reducing its import dependence and take advantage of its hydrocarbon deposits.

So far Greece has been able to produce limited quantities of oil from its one and only oil field at Prinos, offshore the coastal town of Kavalla and the island of Thassos in northern Greece. Prinos is currently producing some 2,000 – 2,200 barrels of oil per day with the prospect of this being increased to 5,000 barrels by early next year. Prinos current operator, is carrying out extensive drilling operations having since 2009 invested some $ 150 million in improving reservoir output.

Petroleum specialists argue that Prinos is typical of the type of hydrocarbon deposits to be found in Greece, which are not straight forward in their geological structure but may hold significant quantities of oil and gas in secondary basins, once the main reservoir has been depleted.

Although Greece remains one of the least explored, from a hydrocarbon potential point of view, countries in the Mediterranean there are a number of proven deposits of various sizes, which can be economically exploited. Based on experts’ estimations, there are eleven specific areas in different parts of the country which hold promising deposits. These are to be found mainly in the west part of Greece, offshore in the Ionian Sea but also onshore in Epirus. In particular, the gulf of Patras is thought to hold some 200 million barrels of crude oil, while another 80 million barrels are believed to lie near Ioannina and another four million near Katakolo.

Until today 175 exploratory drillings have been carried out in Greece but only 24 of them can be considered state of the art and have provided useful data which can be used to assess the region’s potential. Based on currently available data it is difficult to make precise estimates concerning the country’s real hydrocarbon potential but most geologists seem to agree that this varies close to 4 billion of proven and potential reserves.

In addition, the offshore area south of Crete, known as the Herodotus basin, may hold as much as 2.5 trillion cubic ft. of gas according to experts’ estimations as well.

Finally, the rise in the price of oil over the last 12 months along with the unsolved PSI enigma for the Greek economy put, more than ever, extreme pressure to the Greek government in order to accelerate the hydrocarbon exploration processes. Undoubtedly, Greece runs in a race against clock and much remains to be done in a short period without any chance of failure.

By Dimitris Sarantopoulos,
Director of AUEB Energy & Sustainability Club