ATHENS – Greece has signed a lease agreement with the joint venture Total-Edison-Hellenic Petroleum for the Block 2 at the Ionian Sea, offshore Greece.

At a packed event at the library of the Niarxos Cultural Center (SNFCC) in Athens on October 31, Greece’s Environment and Energy Minister George Stathakis, Total’s Vice President of Caspian and Southern Europe Bernard Clement, Edison’s Vice-President of Exploration and Production Maurizio Coratella, and Hellenic Petroleum’s (ELPE) deputy CEO Andreas Siamisis signed the contract.

Clement told New Europe on the sidelines of the signing ceremony that if new reserves are discovered in the East Mediterranean, it “can only help energy security”.

Asked if was optimistic about East Med becoming a new energy source for Europe, Total’s Vice President reminded that “exploration is a very risky business so there were some interesting discoveries in the recent past, in Egypt in particular, so we hope that there is good potential here”.

France’s Total has also started exploration work in Block 11 offshore Cyprus, along with partner Italy’s ENI. “Exploration is a very technical activity so we try to identify areas where there is good potential and then to develop our technology the best we can,” Clement said. “Ninety-nine percent of the consideration is that – technical. There is very little about politics when you do exploration,” he said, asked about Turkey’s objections to the drilling offshore Cyprus.

Asked if plans to transport hydrocarbons from the East Med to Europe via pipeline or liquefied natural gas (LNG) are viable, Clement said, “First we have to discover something and then to understand how much can be produced in which can we would elaborate about marketing of the quantities whether locally or to export so all options are open. It’s way too early to make plans on that”.

Clement, who is Total’s Vice President of Caspian and Southern Europe, reminded that the energy-rich Caspian region has been explored and the Southern Gas corridor will transport “reserves which have been discovered many years ago and it’s now time to develop”. In Mediterranean “there were only recently new successes, which is pushing for more exploration,” Clement told New Europe. “We’ll see in the years to come whether this work has been successful or not.”

Greece’s Energy Minister said in his speech at the signing ceremony that “the southeastern Mediterranean is at the focus of all international investors and companies after the fact that major energy reserves have been found in this area”. Greece is trying to build the necessary infrastructure in order to become a regional energy hub, Stathakis said. “The lease agreement that we are signing today will be a major step towards this direction,” he concluded.

Also present at the event, France’s Ambassador to Greece Christophe Chantepy said the agreement “is extremely important” for Total allowing the French company and its Greek and Italian partners “to initiate the exploration works in Block 2 as soon as the Parliament ratifies this agreement”.

For his part, Italy’s Ambassador to Greece Efisio Luigi Marras said neighbouring Italy “is full supportive and encourages Greece in speeding up this process”. “Greece is contributing, progressively consolidating its role as an energy hub to provide southern Europe with infrastructures necessary for a balanced energy market in Europe. I mean the whole of Europe. TAP (the Trans Adriatic Pipeline), the privatisation process which is ongoing, the new corridors, the support to renewables, smart grids, they all belong to the same strategy and I hope they will soon provide their benefits,” he said.

The Italian ambassador said southern Europe needs “stability and security of supply, fair and competitive prices and environmental sustainability”.

follow on twitter @energyinsider