As Greece prepares to assume the rotating six-month European Union presidency on 1 January 2014, an unlikely issue is becoming a focus point for the country and Europe as a whole. Developments in the energy sector are always watched with interest but if sea transportation is not involved, the energy sector is one few would associate with Greece.
However, over the coming months the supply of product for Europe’s future energy needs is likely to see a stream of top energy officials visiting Athens.
Indeed, Russian Foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov and European Commissioner for Energy, Guenther Oettinger were in Athens last week to talk about energy. The main issue on the energy front is the examination by the EC’s competition authorities of Russian energy giant Gazprom’s dominant position in the supply of the European market with natural gas.
On 30 October Lavrov was reportedly anxious to explain the Russian position when he met with Greek Prime minister Antonis Samaras. Gazprom was also on the agenda of the meetings Oettinger had in Athens during his two-day visit when he met with Samaras,
Environment and Energy minister Yiannis Maniatis and his deputy Makis Papageorgiou.
Developments on the hydrocarbons front, with an emphasis on the surveys in the Ionian Sea and south of Crete were also high on the agenda as Brussels is known to hold high expectations for the Greek hydrocarbons, as they, along with those off the coast of Cyprus, are seen as an alternative source for the secure supply of the European market.
Lavrov underlined his country’s support for Greece’s economic reform efforts and pledged to promote bilateral economic cooperation. “We sympathise with the efforts of your government to overcome some difficulties in the economy,” said Lavrov. Though short on specifics he said Moscow was willing to “promote trade and economic cooperation.”
Bilateral talks were also addressed the issue of the stalled Bourgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline project, with the Russians reportedly suggesting more pressure be put on Bulgaria to back the initiative.
Bulgarian Prime minister Boyko Borisov has thrown a cloud over the much-vaunted pipeline project, in June saying the $900m, 300km pipeline was dead. However, the country’s Energy minister has said a final decision has not been taken, and it still seems to be outstanding.
The project would carry up to 10m tonnes of crude a year from the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Bourgas to Greece’s north Aegean port of Alexandroupolis by-passing Turkey’s traffic-clogged Bosporus Strait.
While the EU has said nothing about this project, it has thrown its weight behind the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) which is one of the most high profile gas projects on a list unveiled by the European Commission, mid-October as eligible to a share of EUR5.85bn of funding as part of plans to curb reliance on Russian gas and create a single energy market.
The funds will be shared among trans-European energy infrastructure projects from 2014 to 2020 with the aim of helping EU countries integrate their energy markets and diversify sources of supply, the bloc’s executive arm said.
TAP was selected by a consortium, in June, to ship Azeri gas collected in Turkey across Greece and Albania to southern Italy, through a pipeline stretching 870km. A gas pipeline from offshore Cyprus to Greece via Crete is also on the list, which includes projects in the electricity transmission and storage sector, gas transmission, storage and LNG, and several oil and smart-grid projects.
Meanwhile, Greece’s shipowner-backed Energean Oil & Gas and Israel’s Ratio Oil Exploration have tabled a joint bid to conduct hydrocarbon surveys in the Thermaic Gulf off the coast of Thessaloniki and the Strymonic Gulf east of the Halkidiki peninsula.
Prime Marine’s Stathis Topouzoglou is behind Energean, which recent invested $60m to launch a new drilling programme in Greece’s only oilfield at the Prinos in the northern Aegean.
An Energean-led consortium and a group led by Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) has also won tenders for the research into and utilisation of hydrocarbons in the areas of Ioannina and the Gulf of Patras, western Greece. It is estimated revenues from these two regions in the next 25 years will amount to some Euros 11bn ($14.3bn).
By David Glass