Greece’s upstream exploration programme offshore Crete is proceeding without delays, with a first assessment of the two concessions’ natural gas potential expected by the end of 2023. This was the message delivered by the CEO of the Hellenic Hydrocarbons and Energy Resources Management Company (HEREMA), Aris Stefatos, during a press conference held alongside the company’s Chairman Rikard Scoufias.
Following the withdrawal of TotalEnergies earlier this year from the blocks dubbed “West of Crete” and “Southwest of Crete”, U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil significantly upped its stake in both concessions, raising this from 40% to 70% for E&P activities, while also assuming the operatorship. Likewise, Greece-based Hellenic Petroleum increased its participation in both areas from 20% to 30%.
ExxonMobil has prepared an upgraded work programme for the first phase of upstream exploration activities – anticipating faster and higher quality results – with delivery expected within a 2-year period instead of the 3 years companies have at their disposal for said exploration stage.
According to Stefatos, any delays in the Cretan concessions can be attributed to the fact that the previous operator did not complete the minimum work programme within the stipulated three-year term. He added that HEREMA’s exploration program is well underway, in accordance with the company’s underlying strategy “Hydrocarbons 2.0”, underpinned by three pillars:
- Accelerating the development of Greece’s upstream sector with a particular focus on natural gas.
- Expanding the scope of HEREMA to new energy technologies that can support Greece’s country’s energy transition.
- Strengthening governance and ensuring HEREMA has the capacity and resources to meet all aspects of its mandate.
Regarding the first pillar, in February 2022 the leadership of HEREMA launched an ambitious investor outreach programme targeting energy majors. The company’s management noted that the results so far have being particularly encouraging.
Discussions are ongoing with companies that have expressed an interest in entering the Greek upstream sector, with priority being placed on concessions where there is a single investor. While Mr. Stefatos confirmed that another licensing round is not off the table, he stressed the importance of drawing in investors to pre-existing concessions.
HEREMA is also set to play a key role in the development of offshore wind parks in Greek seas, in accordance with its legally expanded work scope, leveraging upon the company’s wealth of expertise in offshore operations. It’s important to underline that offshore oil and gas installations boast strong similarities to the platforms used in offshore wind installations. To this end, the company is being strengthened with specialized technical personnel and the relevant logistical infrastructure to enable it to deliver upon its expanded remit.
HEREMA has been carrying out one-to-one discussions with interested parties, including potential domestic and foreign investors, in an effort to understand their concerns and priorities – deemed key for the development of Greece’s newly-established offshore wind sector. Last but not least, HEREMA recently inked a memorandum of cooperation with the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) focused on technical and environmental synergies.
Within the scope of new energy technologies, HEREMA’s expanded work scope additionally includes the licensing of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and underground gas storage (UGS) projects in Greece. Such projects could focus on the storage of natural gas and hydrogen in the future.
Imminent key challenges
While assessing key challenges moving forward, HEREMA’s Board of Directors underlined the importance of maintaining the momentum built during the last 12 months, while ensuring the company is provided with the necessary administrative and financial resources. Strengthening HEREMA’s capacity and resources is a primary challenge and will become even more critical as the company assumes its broader remit including natural gas storage, CO2 and greenhouse gas management, and supporting the offshore wind sector. It is noted that draft legislation for the modernization of HEREMA has been ready for adoption since January 2021 and will contribute to the creation of a more modern and efficient administrative framework.
More specifically, the board concludes “This is an important factor in maintaining investor confidence, but most importantly it serves to build an organisation with the staff, resources, and expertise required to manage a Greek “Hydrocarbons 2.0” programme that should only be initiated once the financial and human resources are in place to monitor and enforce the strictest standards for environmental protection and socio-economic impact management.”