Energy Search Off Crete Moves to Cut Off Turkey, Diversify Sources

ATHENS – Greece has issued an advisory that the energy research vessel Sanco Swift will conduct seismic surveys to find natural gas reserves off the Peloponnese peninsula and west and southwest of Crete, the country’s biggest island.

It comes ahead Turkey’s plans to hunt for energy off Greek islands, Greece authorizing a consortium led US petroleum giant ExxonMobil to begin the hunt as the two countries wrangle over sovereignty of the seas.

(Read also: Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Gas Exploration to Start off Crete in Coming Days)

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Antenna TV it would begin imminently and cover part of an area targeted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who said he would send energy research vessels off some Greek islands.

Greece, an entry point for natural gas for the eastern Mediterranean, wants to be a gas producer and a hub for the storage and transfer of gas to the rest of Europe and help the continent cut its reliance on Russian energy, noted Reuters in a report.

Collecting seismic data through survey vessels is a key step in gas exploration to identify potential reserves. The advisory issued by the Greek Navy reserved areas in the Ionian Sea near the Peloponnese peninsula and off Crete from Nov. 8.

The surveys will take place during the winter months to minimize any environmental impact, the state-owned Hellenic Hydrocarbons and Energy Resources Management Company (HEREMA) said,

“Greek natural gas can play an important role, not only for Greece, but also in support of the broader region and Europe’s increasing demand for domestic energy resources at a crucial time for energy security,” said HEREMA chief Rikard Scoufias, the report noted.

Greece had indications of gas reserves of around 600 billion cubic meters, it was added. ExxonMobil owns 70 percent of the exploration rights for hydrocarbons off Crete and Greece’s biggest oil refiner HelleniQ Energy has the rest.

Energean Hellas (ENOG.L) and HelleniQ hold gas exploration licenses in the Ionian Sea off the west coast as Greece is anxious to find energy while also building alternative and sustainable sources such as wind and solar power.

“Our country, regardless of its focus on a fast green transition, is obliged to explore if it has the potential to mine natural gas, which will contribute to our country’s energy security and Europe’s,” Mitsotakis said.

That was just before joining the United Nations climate talks in Egypt where he said Greece wanted to reach out to Libya in order for the two countries to reach an agreement on their respective maritime zones.

Greece is keen on developing alternative sources to replace Russian supplies that make up as much as 40 percent of its needs and were exempted from European Union sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

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, with Greece also returning to coal-fired plants.

Mitsotakis insisted 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.”

In 2019, Greece granted rights for exploration which didn’t proceed, in two blocks of seabed south and southwest of Crete to a consortium of TotalEnergies and Exxon Mobil with Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum.

The areas include the Mediterranean’s deepest waters. The Hellenic Trench, at 5,267 meters (17,300 feet) is a vital habitat for the sea’s few hundred sperm whales, and other cetaceans already threatened by fishing, collisions with ships and plastic pollution that’s spreading.

The mammals are acutely sensitive to underwater noise produced by seismic surveys for fossil fuels, in which sound waves are bounced off the seabed to locate potential deposits.

Sonar used by warships has been shown to have deadly effects on whales, and experts say seismic surveys can do the same, but the government wants full speed ahead on finding more energy.


(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)


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