A systematic approach in the historical record of hydrocarbon exploration in Greece can be achieved on the basis of the restlessly developing exploration techniques, and the enhancement of knowledge of the general geological structure of Greece. This approach is at the same time closely linked to the establishment and development of the legal frame that governs the overall prospecting, exploration/exploitation of hydrocarbons.
Α. Beginning of the 20th century to early 60s
Hydrocarbon exploration in Greece dates back to the beginning of the 20th century (1903). However, some evidence exists on earlier efforts having taken place in the early second half of the 19th century (1860).
The first wells were drilled by companies like London Oil Development, HELLIS, PAN-ISRAEL, DEILMAN-ILIO in the areas of Keri (Zante), NW Peloponnese and Evros in NE Greece.
Exploration efforts were discontinuous up to the early 60s, and were mainly focused on on-shore areas, characterized by surface oil shows (oil seepages) evidence, especially in Western Greece.
Β. Early 60s to mid 70s
During that period, exploration becomes more systematic and the decision for the establishment of the first public body, oriented to the exploration of hydrocarbons, came as a consequence of the achieved results.
The above mentioned systematic effort started in the early 60s by the former Ministry of Industry, in close collaboration with the Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration (IGME) and in close consultancy with the Institute Francais du Petrol (IFP). Extensive geological research was carried out, especially in continental Greece, and 17 shallow depth wells were drilled. At the same time, concessions were granted to major companies, such as BP (Aitoloakarnania area), ESSO (NW Peloponnese, Zante and Paxi islands), HUNT (Thessaloniki), TEXACO (Thermaikos gulf), CHEVRON (Limnos island), ANSCHUTZ (Thessaloniki-Epanomi) and OCEANIC-COLORADO (Thracian sea), which drilled, in total, more than 40 wells both, on and off-shore. Most of the former wells penetrated geological targets that gave, in some cases, encouraging hydrocarbon indications and, at the same time, contributed significantly to the improvement of the geological background and the continuously evolving interest concerning the hydrocarbon potential of the country.
The final result of the exploration that took place during that time was the discovery of the first exploitable hydrocarbon reserves in the off-shore area of Thasos island (Prinos oil-field and South Kavala gas-field) by OCEANIC (1971-1974).
C. Mid 70s to mid 90s
On the basis of the above achieved results, the establishment of the first public body oriented to hydrocarbon prospecting, exploration/exploitation was decided in 1975, leading to foundation of the Public Petroleum Corporation (DEP). The period under examination involves exploration by the latter public body, starting from its establishment in 1975, and ending in mid 90s, when a new law (L. 2289/95 ) came into effect and, as a consequence, concessions were granted anew to foreign companies for hydrocarbon exploration.
Next year followed the approval by the Greek parliament of the first law governing hydrocarbon exploration (L. 468/76). In 1985 Public Petroleum Corporation-Exploration and Exploitation of Hydrocarbons (DEP EKY), subsidiary company to DEP, was founded. The Greek government granted to the aforementioned two companies 24 on-shore and off-shore areas for hydrocarbon prospecting, exploration and production. A total of 73.000 Km of 2D and 2,500 km2 of 3D seismic survey lines were carried out and 73 exploration wells were drilled, on the basis of seismic surveys’ interpretation.
The main outcome of the above exploration activity was the discovery of oil in the off-shore Katakolo area in NW Peloponnese, gas in Epanomi, an area adjacent to Thessaloniki in Northern Greece, and, in some instances, biogenic gas accumulations.
During this period, an in-depth knowledge of the potential petroleum systems in the Hellenic region– i.e. structural/stratigraphic traps, reservoir rocks, cap rocks, source rocks - was acquired, a large amount of data and information were accumulated that comprised the basal roots for a new endeavour in hydrocarbon exploration.
D. Mid 90s to early 00s
In 1995, the law 2289, which adopted EC Directive 94/22/EC comes into effect. It reforms, in congruity with the EC Directive, the provisions related to the exploration permits’ regimes. In 1996 the first International Licensing Round, involving 6 concession areas, was performed.
As a result of the above international tender, 4 licences were finally granted for the areas: NW Peloponnese and Ioannina to Enterprise Oil and for the areas of Aitoloakarnania and off-shore Western Patraikos Gulf to Triton Ltd. Total amount of investment in seismic surveys and drilling reached up to 85 M€.
The surveys failed to deliver results and well drilling did not reach the depth provided by the original agreements. Two important targets were not investigated: In Ioannina deep drilling was abandoned due to serious technical problems by the company Enterprise Oil and in Western Patraikos Gulf the planned drilling program was not executed because of the acquisition of Triton Ltdl by Amerada Hess. The companies withdrew in 2000-2001.
Ε. Early 2000s to day
After 2001 exploration activity almost ceases during the next decade. Its end, however, marks the beginning of a new effort aiming at further reforming the legal frame governing the granting of hydrocarbon' exploration and exploitation licensing.
In 2007, following an amendment added in law 3587 (article 20), the Greek Government recalled all concession areas formerly granted to DEP/DEP EKY apart from those in which Hellenic Petroleum SA participates in the Prinos area.
The former legal institutional framework related to the procedure of granting exploration/exploitation rights (L. 2289/95), was recently reformed with the approval by the Greek Parliament of the new law 4001/2011, and a new attractive entrepreneurial environment is established.
The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climatic Change (YPEKA) has already preceded to an International Public Invitation for the Participation in non-exclusive seismic survey offshore Western and Southern Greece.
At the same time, the announcement of granting State’s rights of exploration & exploitation in three areas (Patraikos Gulf, Ioannina and Western Katakolo) following the procedure of “open door” is under public consultation.
Finally, the establishment of the Hellenic Hydrocarbons Management Company S.A. has been included in the L.4001/2011. This new S.A, whose Articles of Association is currently being prepared in the form of a Presidential Decree, and whose Board of Directors will be selected through the transparent open government process, will undertake the responsibility to organize and execute all the relevant exploration and/or production tenders, evaluate the offers, select the winners, prepare the relevant contract agreements and constantly supervise their appropriate execution.
Hellenic Hydrocarbons Resources Management S.A.