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WWF launches effort to halt oil and gas drilling in Greek waters

The WWF on Monday, February 11, 2019 published a report on the “Economic impacts of hydrocarbon exploitation in Greece” as part of the launch of its international campaign to halt oil and gas drilling plans in the country. The study, commissioned by WWF and conducted by eftec, finds that a major oil spill in Greece would devastate the country’s tourism and fishing industries, and cost the Greek economy over €7.5 billion.

Sperm Whale
The Sperm Whale is a part of the diverse marine life in the Greek waters

The report and international campaign come in response to 25-year concessions being granted for offshore or onshore oil exploration and drilling in a marine and terrestrial area covering almost 75.000 square kilometres, from the North of Corfu to Southern Crete. Oil companies that have agreed concessions include Total, Repsol, Exxon and Eni.

The marine area, which is equal to 30% of the Greek mainland, is characterised by great depths and diverse marine life – including sperm whales, fin whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, bottlenose dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles and monk seals – while the terrestrial area consists of numerous protected areas of unique ecological importance.

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“Not in our worst nightmares would we ever imagine oil and gas rigs just miles off the shores of Crete, Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Corfu, next to loggerhead nesting beaches in the bay of Lagana and Kyparissia or in the pristine landscape of Epirus. Drilling in the very deep waters of Crete and the Ionian Sea poses a lethal threat to this natural paradise and makes no climate or financial sense,” said Dimitris Ibrahim, Marine Officer at WWF-Greece.

WWF’s report is the first ever analysis that forecasts and quantifies the economic impact of a major oil spill in Greece, thus documenting the very real risk of hydrocarbon exploitation. Due to lack of sufficient, available data, the negative impact of an oil spill incident on the environment of Greece, its constituent regions and other vital ecosystem services is not included in the report. However, experience from previous oil spills suggests that including environmental costs could increase the total cost of damage inflicted by 20% – 100%.

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Greek tourism, marine ecosystems and local communities are at greatest risk

The report shows tourism is the sector most heavily impacted in the event of an oil spill. In the unfortunate, yet plausible, scenario of a single major oil spill occurring near Crete, the cost could reach €2.2 billion, while up to 45,000 jobs would be lost overnight. A similar event in the Ionian Islands would cost up to €1.78 billion and wipe out up to 25.000 jobs. 

WWF emphasises that the granting of new oil concessions does not align with the fast and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to meet the climate targets of the Paris Agreement and secure a climate safe future. WWF calls on the Greek Government to immediately ban new hydrocarbon exploration and drilling, following the recent examples of Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and New Zealand.

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“Drilling in Greek waters places Greece’s marine environment and national economy at risk. An oil spill would have devastating impacts on wildlife, the tourism industry and local communities. The plans also move us further from achieving the climate targets set out under the Paris Agreement. The Greek government needs to immediately withdraw the concessions granted in the area and focus on sustainable development that would be beneficial to Greece and Mediterranean in general,” said Aslihan Tumer, Head of Campaigns at WWF-International.

The WWF also called on Greece’s friends from all over the world to join the campaign and protect the Greek seas, coasts and islands that for decades have been a dream destination for millions of people.

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