ATHENS Greece will begin the process of opening up new onshore oil and gas prospects to exploration next year, the chief executive of the country's oil and gas resources management company said on Monday.
Among the first will be the Greek region of Grevena, close to where the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will cross, Yannis Bassias, head of the Hellenic Hydrocarbons Resources Management (HHRM), told Reuters in an interview.
TAP, which will bring new gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Italy, runs across northern Greek territory.
"As of next year, and perhaps earlier, we will begin announcing that we are opening the door to whoever is interested in onshore sites, " Bassias told Reuters.
HHRM, an independent body, would start compiling data packages for Grevena and central regions too, he said.
Greece has launched an ambitious programme to discover more oil and gas, encouraged by the recent big large gas finds offshore Israel and Cyprus and spurred on by its protracted financial crisis.
Last week it granted a concession to Greece's Hellenic Petroleum ELPEr.AT for onshore exploration at two sites in the west of the country, and to privately-held Energean (TPOG.L) for another block.
Energean is currently the country's only offshore oil producer, in northeastern Greece, with an average production of 3,500 barrels per day last year.
Bassias said he expected the first new offshore and onshore drillings to begin in two years, provided bureaucratic hurdles were overcome.
He was also confident that firmer crude prices and a more stable political climate in Greece would attract prospectors to the remaining 17 of 20 blocks in the Ionian Sea and south of Crete which were unsuccessfully offered in 2014.
"We've seen all the big companies, and medium-sized ones too. Its inconceivable to not have companies express interest in the coming months in sites which were not leased during the previous bid round in 2014," Bassias said.
HHRM, tasked with finding investors, overseeing licences and monitoring the implementation of exploration and exploitation agreements, would not be launching new licence bidding rounds for those blocks, Bassias said. Instead, it was in talks with firms for so-called "investors' initiatives."
"We are optimistic because these are high risk, high reward regions," he said.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)