ATHENS - Financially-struggling Greece has signed contracts for offshore gas exploration in large tracts of the Mediterranean, despite warnings from leading environmental groups that the project threatens key marine life habitats.
The deal will allow global energy giants Total and ExxonMobil, together with Greece's Hellenic Petroleum, to explore two areas covering 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 sq. miles) south and southwest of the island of Crete.
Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature have appealed to Greece's supreme court to block the project. They say prospecting in deep waters off Crete will threaten endangered whales, dolphins and other marine life, and argue that Greece would do better to invest in renewable energy sources.
"Today, Greece is not only a country that is a critical energy hub in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans but is also starting to implement a plan that ultimately aims to turn it into an energy-producing country," he said and added: "This is the culmination of many years of efforts and planning."
"This development offers another perspective to Greece's geopolitical role, but at the same time another development and economic outlook in Greece," the prime minister underlined.
"Just four years ago the country was on the brink of bankruptcy and now it is a self-sufficient country," he added.
"The investment signed today for the exploration and exploitation of potential hydrocarbon deposits is a vote of confidence in the potential of Greece and the Greek economy," the prime minister said, and pointed out that the great interest today has to do with the geopolitical significance of the contract being signed, which he described as "a nationally important investment that begins a great cycle for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction.
"Greece, like Cyprus, is proceeding with well-planned and coordinated steps to the utilisation of our energy resources," he said, noting that these were not actions carried out 'for show' for for communication purposes but actions aiming "to create good prospects, economic prosperity and security for our peoples and future generations."
He also observed that "we always proceed by ensuring that international law is respected, and that our efforts are supported by the companies that have the best technology, as well as excellent knowledge and the know-how and logistical infrastructure to achieve the best possible result."
"The agreement signed today marks Greece's exploitation of its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in the footsteps of other states in the region," Tsipras said.
"In cooperation with energy giants, we will look for deposits in the south of Crete, which, if identified, will add Greece to the region's producer countries. It opens up a new big chapter, with significant potential economic and social benefits. The institutional framework we have set up ensures that these benefits will be accrue to both local communities and the public, both in the exploration phase and in a possible future exploitation phase," he stated.
(Material from the Associated Press and the Athens Macedonian Agancy was used in this report)