After much preparation (too much, one is tempted to say) underwater search for oil-and-(mainly) natural gas in promising fields of Greek interest south of Crete is getting started. US Exxon Mobil, French Total and Greek ELPE (in joint-venture) were pronounced preferred bidders for two blocks south-west of Crete; the rights to a some 40.000 sq km area will be specified in a concession agreement that will be voted into law by the Greek Parliament in the next four months. It took some six years for the tortuous procedure to get to a successful end – but here are we at last.
Meanwhile, the selfsame Exxon Mobil (in J.-V. with Qatar Petroleum this time) has obtained the final license to start drilling in two or more spots in Block 10 of the embattled Cyprus EEZ. Romantic-sounding names like Dolphin, Anthea or Glaukos come to the fore; special-technology drillships, adequate for hydrocarbon search in difficult, high-pressure conditions at depths of some 35.000 feet will be used; Medserv Co logistics services will contribute to the effort. The area to be addressed is adjoining the Calypso-1 finding that Total has hit earlier in 2018 in Block 6, jointly with ENI. This is the final leg of the exploration round started by Exxon Mobil/Qatar in spring, when vessels Med Surveyor and then Ocean Investigator started testing Block 10. Exxon Mobil met with no resistance in its venture from Turkey, who had been successful in stopping ENI exploration efforts in Block 3 of the Cyprus EEZ (the claim nearest to Turkey in the Cyprus EEZ). Northern Cyprus’ “Foreign Minister” Kudret Ozersay warned that exploration by ENI this time around would bring into play Turkish TPAO exploration forays in close adjoining areas.
Back to the Greek venturing to the oil-and-gas era: The reason that the areas to be put under exploration south of Crete stop abruptly at the middle of the sea are south of the island is attributed to the fact that west-wards the Greek EEZ-to-be-tested borders with Libya, a country lacking a Government (or any sort of governance, indeed); while east-wards, any EEZ-to-be-traced would meet with the Egyptian one. At least, such is the reason officially offered as an explanation: the real reason is, of course, that maximalist positions put forward by Turkey for the overall share-out of the Eastern Mediterranean, starting from Cyprus and ranging all the way to the south of Crete are impeding any progress towards hydrocarbon exploration. So, the moves of ExxonMobil and total are watched with close to trepidation from the Greek side since the bilateral relations with Turkey are increasingly strained.
Meanwhile, negotiations underway between Greece and neighbouring Albania also have an oil-and-gas dimension: the border sea-areas where the north of the Ionian Sea joins the Adriatic have to be delimitated between the two countries in a mutually agreed way. Most importantly, the status of a cluster of Greek small islands (Othonoi, Ereikoussa, Mathraki) sparsely populated and of adjoining uninhabited islets has to be settled insofar their role in tracing the limits of Greek and Albanian EEZ is concerned. If this sounds straightforward enough, don’t be duped: the status of these islands may well reflect on the far more sensitive issue of the small island of Kastellorizo (and the adjoining islets Ro and Strongyli) at the very opposite end of the map – where Greek waters are closest to Turkey, as the south-eastern most part of Greek territory.
Nothing is simple in this part of the world.