As PIGS are fast-tracking approval procedures for all kinds of investments, resource extraction (primarily gold mining and hydrocarbon exploration in sensitive marine areas) is promoted as the spearhead in the effort of economically troubled states to revive their battered economies.
Amidst local protests and demonstrations of thousands against the approval of gold mining operations in Chalkidiki, another investment is in the pipeline. In Evros, the north-easternmost end of Greece, the opening of gold mines in the black-pine forest (priority habitat under the EU’s Habitats Directive) of Perama is going through the permitting process. In December, the Central Archeological Council raised concerns about the use of explosives that might cause damage to protected antiquities and postponed the approval procedure, until these concerns are properly addressed.
Portugal also sees to mining as an important source of income. According to the Government, 95 contracts have been signed with mining companies since last year. Priority is given to gold and silver.
Following the announcement by the Government of Cyprus of the discovery of huge deposits of 5-8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Levant Basin, many EU Mediterranean states are looking to the marine environment as a sea of economic hope. Malta, is reportedly preparing to auction oil exploration rights soon, whereas through deregulation law “Grow Italy” of April 2012, Italy fast -tracks the licencing procedures for mining and oil & gas exploitation.
Leading Italian environmental NGOs estimate that over 70 oil drilling platforms will be launched in Italian waters. Major concerns arise from the prospects of oil drilling in the Channel of Sicily, which hosts the only Mediterranean breeding ground of the Atlantic bluefin tuna (economically the world’s most valuable fish species), white shark nursery grounds, sea turtle nesting sites, among other marine species. Three extraction permits have already been granted for the Channel of Sicily and another three are in the pipeline. Investors also covet the Malta Channel, between Sicily and Malta, where two permits have been granted for research.
In Greece, seismic research has commenced in quest for hydrocarbon deposits in the sensitive marine area of the Hellenic Trench (stretching from Northern Crete to the Ionian Sea). The M/V Nordic Explorer of Petroleum Geo-Services launched survey operations, in the presence of Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Evangelos Livieratos. Conservation NGOs have expressed serious concerns regarding the expected impact on the threatened cetacean species, given that the Hellenic Trench is designated as the only “area of special importance for the sperm whale” by the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS). More specifically, according to Resolution 4.17 of ACCOBAMS, all operative ships conducting seismic surveys and airgun uses in the area should carry at least two dedicated cetacean observers at each time, in order to minimise the possibility of adverse impacts on all marine mammal species, which are also protected by the EU’s Habitats Directive. According to the Ministry, the presence of only two observers has been included in the terms of agreement between the Greek State and PGS.
Sources: NGOs on hydrocarbon survey by M/V Nordic Explorer (in Greek), WWF Greece on gold mine (in Greek), Petroleum Geo-Services, Morning Star, Bloomberg on Greece, Bloomberg on Portugal, Malta Independent.