Iconic and ecologically sensitive marine and coastal areas are at serious risk by the ongoing oil and gas exploitation frenzy currently pushed by the Greek Government.
Last week, Environment and Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis submitted to Parliament for approval three bills ratifying contracts for hydrocarbon research and extraction in the offshore block 2 of the Ionian Sea, and the onshore blocks of Aetoloarkanania, Arta-Preveza and NW Peloponnese.
In 2014, the Parliament ratified another round of contracts for hydrocarbon exploration and drilling in the onshore block of Ioannina, (Epirus region), and the offshore blocks of Patraikos, and Katakolo.
Since the wake of the economic crisis, cash strapped Greece has promoted oil and gas as the spearhead of its economic recovery strategy, claiming that significant revenues can be gained and dependency on hydrocarbon imports will be reduced. In addition to the impact of burning fossil fuels as the main cause of climate change, oil drilling causes severe impacts on the areas of concern and undermines the potential of local economies for sustainable development.
Greece’s plans for the development of oil and gas include the following areas:
SOS for iconic areas
Unique ecological wealth is threatened by the oil and gas projects now starting in Greece: the Hellenic Trench is the most important area for sperm whales in the Mediterranean, while the Strofades islets in the Ionian Sea, a unique stopover for migratory birds hosting a number of endemic species, are part of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos.
The concession areas include or directly affect important protected sites, such as the National Park of Northern Pindos (Ioannina), the National Marine Park of Zakynthos (Ionian) and the Ramsar wetlands of Messolongi, Amvrakikos and Kotychi-Strofilia.
In Ioannina, seismic research activities started in autumn 2017, causing the reaction of local communities. Pre-licencing consultation at the local level has not taken place, thus many residents at the nearby villages were taken by surprise at the sight of tree-cutting, road-opening and the use of explosives. A local Initiative Against Hydrocarbon Drilling in Epirus has been formed. WWF Greece and Greenpeace have filed a series of requests for access to environmental information. The three have also called on the environmental inspectors to launch an investigation on the legal basis of the technical works now taking place in the area.
Ioannina attracts special attention due to the possibility of fracking for shale gas and the fact that the concession area includes ecologically significant areas. The annual lease price has been set at 10 EUR/ km2, 15 EUR / km2 and 20 EUR/ km2 for each of the three research phases, which include seismic tests and exploratory drillings. Fracking for shale gas is not forbidden by Greek law within protected areas, whereas in 2012 the Institute for Geological and Mineral Exploration indicated the presence of significant hydrocarbon shale reserves in Ioannina.
Official estimations of the expected yield from the concession of Ioannina are between 3,000 and 10,000 barrels daily (the daily crude oil consumption in Greece ranges between 300-400 thousand barrels).
The breath-taking landscapes of Ioannina (sheer mountains and canyons, valleys, diversity of bas-relief, extensive forests, a diversity of aquatic systems), the geologic richness (potholes, cliff faces etc.), and the presence of a unique variety of habitats and wildlife, over 1750 species of plants and almost 300 species of vertebrates, including many rare and protected species, make the area a biodiversity hot-spot. The unique cultural and architectural characteristics of the human environment with the scattered settlements and other structures: bridges, stone-paved roads, fountains, hydro-powered installations, post-Byzantine churches and monasteries make Ioannina a special tourism destination. The local economy is based on nature tourism, food industry and high quality primary production.
Ionian Sea & Western Greece
The Ionian Sea and the land area under concession in Western Greece is home or directly adjacent to and affecting Natura 2000 sites of high conservation value. These include the National Marine Park of Zakynthos (which includes Strofades islets), the National Park of Kotychi-Strofilia, the Messolongi lagoons (Ramsar site and national park), the Amvrakikos lagoons (Ramsar site and national park), and the marine area of Kyparissia.
Habitat types of high conservation value include Posidonia oceanica meadows, coastal lagoons, and rocky reefs with coralligenous formations. Important protected species have been recorded in the Ionian: the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus, the Striped dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba, the Common dolphin Delphinus delphis, the sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus, the Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris, the loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta, and the Noble pen shell Pinna nobilis.
The Hellenic Trench and Crete
“The Hellenic Trench is a long bathymetric feature in the eastern Mediterranean consisting of a continuous steep continental seaward slope, often bounding offshore linear trenches, troughs and basins, which reach 5 km in depth. The area is the core habitat for the eastern basin distribution of the Mediterranean sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) subpopulation. This eastern Mediterranean distribution includes some 200-250 animals threatened by potentially unsustainable ship-strikes and noise. Additionally, the Hellenic Trench features a sub-area which is the largest among five high-density areas of Mediterranean occurrence for Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) that have suffered repeated mass stranding events in the area.” (Source: Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force).
The Hellenic Trench is almost in its entirety covered by the concession blocks of the Ionian Sea (oil and gas), Western Greece (oil and gas), and Crete (gas).
The area under concession in Southern Crete covers the marine area extending from the channel between Crete and Kassos to the bay of Kalamata in the Peloponnese. The marine area of Southern Crete is of exceptional biodiversity significance: cetaceans, such as the Short-beaked common dolphin, the Sperm whale, and Riso’s dolphin, cold coral reefs, deep sea biological communities are just of few of its most important ecological features.
Map: Concession blocks in Southern Crete. Source: Ministry of Environment and Energy.
Environmental organisations and local groups are opposed to the plans for extraction of new oil and gas that will supposedly save Greece from economic misery, as hydrocarbon extraction is a particularly hazardous operation impacting important areas. In conjunction with Greece’s plans to expand the use of coal by constructing new lignite plants, new oil and gas locks the country in a high footprint economic model for decades to come.