ATHENS – After Greece issued navigational telexes (NAVTEX) on November 8 reserving areas that will be explored for natural gas off the western and southwestern coasts of Crete and the southwestern coast of the Peloponnese, on November 10 Kostas Skrekas, Greece’s Energy and Environment minister, announced that ExxonMobil has begun exploration there. That development has implications beyond the Greece-Turkey disputes over drilling rights in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas as Europe, with U.S. support, is seeking alternative energy sources to Russia given the war in Ukraine.
The Associated Press noted that, “ExxonMobil’s ship is already in operation in the area, Energy and Environment Minister Kostas Skrekas said on state-run ERT television Thursday, just four days after Greece’s prime minister announced the project was to start. The move comes amid heightened tensions with neighboring Turkey, and is a project that has been heavily criticized by environmental groups.”
“The ship has begun. At this moment it is laying the cables” Skrekas said, adding that, “the reserves we speculate exist southwest of Crete and the Peloponnese might be the last hope the mining industry has to find a large reserve … in the region of southeastern Europe, in our region.” He acknowledged, however, that, “until we drill and see what is really there, everything is on the level of speculation.”
“The project has been heavily criticized by environmental groups, which argue that the deep-sea prospecting would have ‘unbearable’ consequences on endangered Mediterranean whales and dolphins. Critics also highlight the potential risk of spills, and say the project, if successful, would increase Greece’s use of fossil fuels amid the planet’s climate change crisis,” AP reported, while adding that, “Mitsotakis insisted Monday that Greece remains dedicated to ;fast green transition,’ but he added: ‘Our country … must ascertain whether it currently has the ability to produce natural gas, which would contribute not only to our own energy security but also to that of Europe.’”
The seismic surveys will cover 40,000 square kilometers and they are being undertaken by the Sanco Swift research ship, which is operated by ExxonMobil. The American energy giant owns 70% and the Greek company HelleniQ Energy has 30% of the rights to search for hydrocarbons off Crete.