A review of recent hydrocarbon exploration in Greece and its potential
A. Mavromatidis
Technological Educational Institute of Crete, Dept. of Natural Resources & Environment, Chania,

V. C. Kelessidis
Technical University of Crete, Dept. of Mineral Resources Engineering, Chania, Greece

D. G. Monopolis
Technical University of Crete, Dept. of Mineral Resources Engineering, Chania, Greece

Paper presented at the 1st International Conference on Advances in Mineral Resources Management
and Environmental Geotechnology, 7-9 June 2004, Chania - Crete – Greece

The paper reviews the recent exploration
activity of hydrocarbons in Greece and
neighbouring Albania and Turkey. Emphasises
the relevance of the prospects in these
neighbouring countries and those identified in
Greece, and finally accentuates the importance
of a new exploration strategy in Greece. With
only few deep exploration wells drilled the last
years, none offshore, the area should be set for a
more extensive exploration effort and a future
announcement for a new onshore and/or
offshore licensing round by the new Greek
government should be pursued.
Hydrocarbon (HC) exploration in Greece has
been under way from the 1860s. A
comprehensive review for the activity until
1977 has been done by Monopolis (1977) and
until 2000 by Xenopoulos (2000). Early
exploration focused on the abundant surface
seepage of oil in the area of western Greece.
Then, after decades, in 1972, it focused in the
Prinos area northeast of the country, in 1980s in
south western Greece at the Katakolon area and
further north in Epanomi area and finally in
2000s again in western Greece. Exploration
results to date are not encouraging since only
one viable field was discovered, in Prinos area,
while the small offshore and onshore oil and gas
fields in Katakolon and the gas field in Epanomi
have not yet been developed. It is worth
mentioning that in Albania there are about 25
oil and gas fields while in Turkey there are more
than 16 oil and gas fields in Thrace basin and
few in central west Turkey. Based only on
published data a connection between the proven
fields in neighbouring countries around Greece
and the potential of the explored areas in Greece
is attempted in this paper. The approach can
help establish the relationship between
tectonostratigraphic basin evolution and
potential resources and can assist in
prospectivity assessment.
2.1 Albania
The Ionian zone is the main HC producing
region in Albania with recoverable reserves in
Tertiary clastic and carbonate reservoirs (Fig.
1). These include giant heavy oil fields with low
recovery factors such as the Patos-marinza field
which has approximately 2 billion barrels in
place (Albpetrol, 1993). The zone has a well-
developed Tethyan stratigraphy reaching a total
estimated thickness of 10 km or more (Velaj et
al., 1999). OMV is the biggest international
player in onshore Albania. OMV has also
licenses in the Patos-Marinza field and offshore

Albania block (http://www.omv.com).
Geophysical surveys have attested the highly
prospective carbonate reservoirs. This deep
carbonate section, overlain by evaporates, holds
the potential for future discoveries in Albania
(Nieuwland et al., 2001).

2.2 Western Greece
The Greek Ionian zone area, should be active oil
or gas province since there are oil seeps
distributed in various locations and is a
continuation of the proven Albanian fields (Fig.
1). However, the only proven discovery is the
oil-gas field offshore in Katakolon area. The
field discovered in 1981, and the producing
horizon is the Eocene-Cretaceous carbonates of
a paleostructure, unconformably covered by
Figure 1. Licensing status and exploration activity in Albania, Greece and western Turkey. Major tectonic zones,
exploration blocks, oil and gas fields, major oil seeps and recent drilled wells in Greece are also shown (Ait =
Aitoloakarnania, Ap-1 = Apollo-1, Ar-1 = Artemis-1, De-1 = Demetra-1, Ev-1 = Evinos-1, Ion = Ioannina, NWP
= Northwest Peloponnesos, TS-1 = Trifos South-1).
clastic Neogene sediments (Roussos &
Marnelis, 1995) with an estimated 40 million
bbl oil in place and 10 to 12 million bbl
recoverable oil (Maniatakis & Stabolis, 2003).
The Ionian zone is composed of Tertiary clastics
that underlain by thick Mesozoic carbonates
which in turn are underlain by Late Triassic
evaporites. All exploration wells have stopped
in or never reached the Late Triassic evaporitic
section which has never been penetrated.
Triassic evaporites consist of halite, gypsum,
and anhydrite with interbedded dolomite and
thin organic rich shales. The original thickness
is uncertain but estimates raise it to more than
2000m (IGRS, 1966; Mavromatidis, 2004). On
top of this lie the carbonate successions of
Pantokrator limestones which are more than
1500m thick (IGRS, 1966). Hence, the aim for
future exploration and the potential for oil or
gas discovery should be at locations with total
section thickness of more than 3500m or more
than 2000m in case drilling starts from surface
Exposed or shallowly buried carbonate
anticlines are present throughout the Ionian
zone. These carbonates, limestones with tight
matrix porosity, which are abundant across the
area, are not expected to form effective seals as
they are unlikely to have escaped bacterial
degradation and fracturing during Tertiary
compression (Mavromatidis, 2004). However,
the traps below the evaporites, the deep plays
are particularly attractive. These are the deeply
buried clastic and carbonates that may have
fortified from bacterial degradation so that good
quality of hydrocarbons may have been
preserved (Mavromatidis, 2004). Such traps are
evident in southern Albania (Velaj et al., 1999;
Nieuwland et al., 2001).
In late 1995, the Greek state oil company
Hellenic Petroleum (HP) announced for the first
time after 1980 an international tender for six
regions of western Greece (Fig. 1) (three on
land and three offshore), for a total area of
12139 km
. The Katakolo field has been
included in the tendering process but there was
interest only on exploitation without the
preceding exploration stage, required by the
tender and thus the Greek state did not
proceeded further (Maniatakis & Stabolis,
2003). In 1997, the government signed four
contracts for oil exploration and exploitation in
four stretches near Ioannina and the northwest
Peloponnesos (NWP), two of them between
Enterprise Oil and the Greek State (HP) and the
other two contracts in Aitoloakarnania and Gulf
of Patraikos, between Triton Ltd. and the Greek
State (HP). Enterprise Oil, in its two
concessions has carried out geophysical
research which covered 700 km of seismic lines.
The processing and interpretation of the seismic
readings in the NWP has led to the
determination of the position of two drilling
sites at a depth of 2500m each, while for
Ioannina has led to the determination of the
position of one well for a target depth of about
4000m. Triton Ltd. has also carried out a broad
programme of seismic tracings on the land area
of Aitoloakarnania which has led to the
determination of the position of two drilling
sites, one at Evinos at a depth of approximately
1500m and a second one in the Trifos area, at
about the same depth. In the sea area of the Gulf
of Patraikos, Triton Ltd. has carried out seismic
tracings of 1000km, with 4000m of cables (long
offsets method). The processing and
interpretation of these tracings aimed at a
targeted depth of 3000m below sea level.
By late 2001, all exploration and drilling
activities finalised in a grotesque manner.
Enterprise Oil drilled two wells in NWP,
Artemis-1 and Apollo-1 in the year 2000, and
one well, Demetra-1, in the Ioannina area,
drilled in 2001.
Artemis-1 is located on a faulted fold with a
top seal of Oligocene flysch. The target was the
Ionian basinal carbonates underneath the flysch.
The reservoir interval was prognosed to consist
of fractured carbonates of Late Cretaceous to
Eocene age which are productive further up
north in Albania and in the central Adriatic
fields offshore Italy. Drilling proceeded to a
total depth of 2375m. The well encountered
some oil shows and the well was plugged and
abandoned (P&A).
The Apollo-1 well was located in the
Gavrovo Zone, within the Hellenide fold and
thrust belt. The structure targeted by the Apollo-
1 was a faulted fold, having the flysch as a seal
rock. Only two key lithological intervals were
present in the well, namely the Flysch and the
Gavrovo carbonates, the latter that comprise the
reservoir. The Gavrovo carbonates have rarely
been drilled in Greece. The reservoir interval
was prognosed to consist of fractured and
karstified platform carbonates, analogues of
which are productive in the greater Adriatic and
southern Italy region. The well proceeded to a
total depth of 1710m and was P&A.
The Demetra-1 well was drilled in 2001.
Original target depth for Demetra-1 well was at
4000m aiming at penetrating the thick
evaporitic section never penetrated before but
this also did not materialize in this attempt. A
dome structure was delineated from seismic
profiles at that depth and the well was spudded
and drilled over a period of five months and
preceded with no significant problems.
However, it did not succeed in penetrating the
evaporites with reports indicating that drillers
had encountered unexpectedly high pressures,
while still in the evaporitic section, which
proved impossible to overcome, even after the
unsuccessful attempt to sidetrack the well.
These problems increased the drilling
expenditure significantly and combined with the
acquisition of the operator (Enterprise Oil) by
Shell, a shift of priorities of the new owner led
to the decision for the well to be P&A.
In 2000, Triton Ltd. drilled two wells in
Aitoloakarnania, named Trifos South-1 and
Evinos-1. Triton Ltd. did not execute the agreed
drilling program in the Gulf of Patraikos due to
company’s management decision after the
takeover by Amerada Hess.
Trifos South-1 was planned to drill to a target
of Ionian Zone basinal carbonates, sealed by
Oligocene flysch. This reservoir/seal interval
was prognosed to be in a subthrust setting,
overthrust by Triassic evaporites. However,
during drilling these evaporites were found to be
thicker and the well stopped within these
evaporites at 1509 m. Commitment depth for
the well was 1500 m. This well failed to drill to
the objective reservoir and failed to test the
play. It was P&A (with minor oil and gas
Evinos-1 was planned to drill Gavrovo Zone
platform carbonates, sealed by Oligocene
flysch. The well was drilled to commitment
depth of 1500m and stopped at 1508m. Minor
gas shows and poor oil shows were encountered
in the basal flysch and within the carbonates and
the well was P&A. The most likely cause for
dry hole is absence of trap at the well location.
Even though the recent activity in western
Greece has proven unsuccessful, the wealth of
subsurface data that has been acquired with state
of the art technology, never done before at these
large depths, as in Demetra-1, should be made
available for further investigation and analysis
so that a better picture of western Greece
subsurface geological setting to be drawn and
the causes of the unexpected high pressures to
be determined. This will aid in the delineation
of future attempts for oil exploration which
should not be ceased.
3.1 Grabens in western Turkey
In an extensional regime in western Anatolia
(Turkey), E-W grabens formed during the
Pliocene and locally intersected older Miocene
formed grabens that contained lacustrine
bituminous shales and fan delta sediments
(Yilmaz & Gelisli, 2002) (Fig. 1). The Alaşehir
Graben is an example of such configuration. It
contains possible traps as well as high potential
for HC generation. Geochemical analyses show
that Early-Mid Miocene lacustrine shales are
capable of producing oil (Yilmaz & Gelisli,
3.2 Mesohellenic trench in central Greece
The Mesohellenic basin trends SSE-NNW is
130km long and 40km wide and is located in the
sub pelagonian zone (Fig. 1). Two depocentres,
more than 4200m and 3200m thick, have been
recognized of Middle Eocene to Middle
Miocene age, where submarine fans of
sandstones and shales have accumulated
unconformably over a sub pelagonian complex.
Source rocks and possible stratigraphically
trapped reservoirs have been identified with
geochemical analyses (Kontopoulos et al., 1999;
Avramidis et al., 2002). All indications from the
area however show that the organic matter is
immature and thus the generation of gas is of
biogenic origin.
4.1 Thrace Basin, northwestern Turkey
The Thrace basin located in European Turkey
covers an area of some 20000 km
. It has
developed as a fore-arc basin between the
medial Eocene to Oligocene. The basin is filled
with turbidites in its interior and clastics and
carbonates on the margins (Görür & Okay,
1996). Further south in the Saros Gulf there is a
producing oil and gas field (Coskun, 2000).
Exploration has mainly targeted deep plays
in Eocene age sediments which resulted in
several discoveries. Currently there are 14
commercial gas fields and 3 oil fields. A recent
discovery is the Gocerler gas field, a discovery
made from shallower Oligocene sediments
(http://www.amityoil.com.au). Major explorer is
Amity Oil which holds seven exploration
licences in the area together with Turkiye
Petrolleri Anonim Ortakligi and Omax
4.2 Tertiary basins, north and eastern Greece
In eastern Greece exploration was oriented
towards the post-orogenic Paleogene and
younger Neogene basins. The main tectonic
regime that controlled their evolution was
extensional. The stratigraphy includes Eocene
reefal limestones, thick Eocene to Oligocene
marine clastic sediments, and Neogene
terrigenous deposits with extended Messinian
Potential source rocks for gas and oil
generation have been discovered in Eocene and
Miocene sediments. Traps include rollover
anticlines, faulted structures, and stratigraphic
features in Eocene reefal limestones, Eocene
Oligocene sandstones, and Neogene sands.
Trapping ability also exists in fractured
Mesozoic formations (Fig.1), although they are
not source rocks but oil comes from lateral
migration from younger formations. The
Epanomi gas field was discovered in 1988 by
HP, with recoverable reserves of 0.5 billion
of natural gas (Maniatakis & Stabolis,
2003). The structure is formed by the
paleoerosional surface of Mesozoic
metamorphic limestones buried below Tertiary
clastic sediments (Roussos & Marnelis, 1995).
The field has not been explored to date.
Miocene sands, capped by thick salt and
evaporite sections, form the reservoir for Prinos
field. Source rocks were considered to be
marine shales of Upper Miocene age. The
Prinos structure is a graben bounded by sealing
faults which dip towards the center of the basin.
The Prinos oil and South Kavala gas fields were
discovered by the Oceanic company in 1973 and
exploited by North Aegean Petroleum Company
(NAPC). Production terminated in 1993 for the
South Kavala field and 1998 for the Prinos field.
However, a new oil field, namely North Prinos,
was discovered in 1994 by NAPC, with HP
participating with a 35% interest Maximum
production was estimated at 3,000 barrels per
day. In 1999, NAPC withdrew from the region
and operation has since been undertaken by the
newly formed Kavala Oil.
There is recent exploration activity in the
Prinos area, undertaken by the operator, Kavala
Oil. Information has been collected from news
agencies and company announcements since no
scientific information is publicly available. A
well was drilled in the E1A prospect in June
2000 and two producing zones were discovered
at a depth of around 2900m. Although tests have
shown that it contained much less H
S that the
oil produced from Prinos and with estimates of
recoverable reserves of about 13 million bbl
(Kavalanet, 2002), it was a very tight reservoir
requiring hydraulic fracturing. In addition, the
building of an exploitation platform should have
been necessary, with an investment of around
50 million US$, since it was further away from
the existing platforms. Exploitation was thus
deemed non attractive because of economic
situations at that time and has thus been
postponed for later years. In October 2003 there
was the buyout of the major shareholder of
Kavala Oil (Eurotechniki) by Regal Petroleum
which now holds about 60% of Kavala Oil.
Following the buyout, a well was drilled in
November 2003 with a cost of 8,5 million US$
in the Kallirachi prospect, which logged a 200m
gross pay zone with 61m of sweet oil net pay at
a total depth of 2556m. Although no results of
any well testing have been officially reported,
independent consultant’s pre-drill estimates
show a maximum of around 227 million bbl of
recoverable oil, (Kavalanet, 2003; Oil&Gas J.
Online, 2004). The announced discovery is
expected to spur drilling activity with probably
four to five wells and an investment of around
150 million US$ already announced, raising
more the expectations for further drilling
activity (Kavalanet, 2003). However, there are
no plans for extending the exploration activity
to the potentially hydrocarbon bearing
reservoirs in the areas east of the island of
It is obvious that the exploration success in
Greece for finding HC till present time is not
very encouraging regarding further exploration.
The majority of the wells, drilled before 90s,
were selected mainly on the basis of surface
geology with poor geophysical support.
Geological surveys although locally controlled
by some rather deep wells (> 3500m) have not
yet been capable of providing a comprehensive
and reliable picture of the relatively deep
geological structure.
However, in western Greece there are basins
with significant HC potential and merits for
exploration. All requirements for hydrocarbon
accumulations are satisfied in the Ionian basin,
namely source rocks (Rigakis & Karakitsios,
1998), oil generation (Mavromatidis, 2000),
reservoir, seal rocks and palaeorelief trap
structures (Zelilidis et al., 2003). In this area
there is significant amount of geological data.
This part of the country has already attracted oil
exploration interest since early in this century
and has been covered by detailed surface
geological surveys including mapping of
1:50000. Western Greece is covered by
northwest-southeast trending geotectonic units
constituting the southern prolongation of the oil
producing Albania (Fig. 1). It can be safely
stated that there is a great possibility for
commercial production to be established in
western Greece which is an area of active oil
seeps, asphalt saturated strata, repeated shows in
wells and thick dark coloured bituminous
carbonate rocks.
In Katakolon, exploration has proven the
existence of the oil field, in water depths of
more than 200m, which awaits now
exploitation. This should proceed with the
appraisal and development wells. While this
task at the time of its discovery was deemed
very risky and difficult and therefore not
undertaken, now with the recent technological
developments and why not, the breakthroughs in
drilling technology, for deep well drilling
(Jenkins & Roger, 1995; Judzis & Baowes,
1997), for extended reach wells (Cruse et al.,
1997; Avignon & Simondin, 2002), and with the
less expensive Coil Tubing Drilling (CTD), the
water depths of 200m are tractable leading to
the suggestions for revisiting the prospects in
Katakolon (see Kelessidis & Mpandelis, 2003,
for listing of CTD activities around the world
and Konstantakopoulos et al., 2000, for an
overview of CTD). Similar statements were
expressed before (Xenopoulos, 2000), who
claims further that based on data analysis from
seismic and well profiles (available until the
year 2000), there were good chances for
discovering more oil not only in western Greece
but in other areas of Greece as well.
The Messohelenic basin is considered to be a
very high risk area for HC exploration in which
no commercial discoveries have yet been made.
One may be tempted to think of similarities with
the Alaşehir graben where there is evidence for
HC generation. But this is not true since
Alaşehir Graben is not in the subpelagonian
zone and the two areas have not the same
geological background. Hence, the
Messohelenic basin should be a region with
very low exploration priority.
The Epanomi gas field has similarities with
the gas fields in Thrace Basin, one is the
lithology and the second is the tectonic
province. The Thrace Basin, which is under
intensive exploration activity at the moment, is
an extension of the Axios-Perirodopic zone in
Greece where the Epanomi oil-gas field belongs
to. The Prinos field has also similar lithology
with Thrace Basin units and some claim that gas
fields in Marmara Sea in Turkey produced from
the same carbonates as in Prinos oilfield
(Coskun, 2000).
Is there plenty of oil or gas in Greece and will it
ever be found? It is the ever-occurring question
to every Greek since the beginning of the 19

century when oil was crowned as the king of
energy source. University of Athens professor
Georgalas starts his 1937 inaugural lecture with
this same question and goes on saying ‘of
course there are hopes for existence of oil and
gas fields in Greece stemming from scientific
data but to answer this question fully we must
do a lot of drilling’ (Monopolis, 1977). Today,
this question has yet to be answered and if
posed we would answer it exactly the same way,
even though ever since 1937 there have been
more than 200 wells that have been drilled (with
about 60 of them in Prinos field, of which about
40 are production and injection wells). This
drilling activity resulted in the discoveries of
Prinos, Katakolon and Epanomi fields. This low
level activity leads us to claim Greece as the
least explored country not only in the
Mediterranean region but also in central,
northern and eastern Europe as well.
Many factors have contributed to this low
exploration activity in Greece, from the small
sedimentary basins, both onshore and offshore,
to the large water depths offshore. Current
drilling technology enables the successful
penetration in the deep horizons where oil or
gas is premised to be, as analyzed above, as well
as to large water depths for offshore
exploration. All countries neighboring Greece
exceed Greece in daily oil production. The
geologic setting in all these countries is both
similar and indicative of containing commercial
oil accumulations.
The licensing round held in 1996, the first
one after 1980, awarded six concessions and
none of these prospects materialized. In May
2002, Greece announced that it would hold its
second oil exploration licensing by early 2004.
The round would aim to include both offshore
and onshore areas in north-western and south-
western Greece, plus unexplored blocks in the
Ionian Sea (http://www.aapg.org, http:
//www.eia.doe.gov). However, as of March
2004, no such undertaking has occurred when at
the same time all countries in south
Mediterranean area (e.g. Albania, Bulgaria,
Croatia, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Libya, Malta,
Serbia-Montenegro, Romania, Syria, Turkey)
have provided licences to oil companies and
exploration projects are on progress.
An aggressive oil exploration campaign
should thus be undertaken in the immediate
future. Exploration should be undertaken with
strong commitment from the Greek State, while
exploitation should be left for third parties
(Monopolis, 1989). What is necessary is the
commitment of the new Greek government that
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