This is one of many recent shows following this premise, sporting the usual line-up of has-beens from the worlds of politics, science, journalism and, inevitably, international relations. I am no expert in oil or energy markets of any sorts and will not pretend to be one. I am, however, a big believer in the corrosive power of conspiracy folklore and there is a great deal in this new trend of economic escapism that worries me. It is as though some Greek commentators, when faced with the pre-IMF dilemma of ‘Germany or Albania?’ chose ‘Nigeria’ instead. Or as one commentator put it,
When you’re having the time of your life and suddenly the lights go on and you’re told the party is over, what do you do? Someone pipes up and says: ‘why not go to the bar next to my place and keep this up?’ And the crowd goes ‘Yeeeah!’The story of Greek oil begins after the 1973 oil crisis, when the Greek government encouraged through concessions the prospecting for oil in Greece, culminating in the discovery of the Prinos oilfield off the coast of Thasos (a geological profile and history of exploration is available here). Things got very hairy in 1987 when Greece threatened Turkey with war in case prospecting was undertaken within a part of the Aegean sea that Turkey disputed, but which Greece believed to be indisputably Greek. This dispute forever poisoned the chalice of Greek oil prospecting as potential prospectors would have to restrict themselves to territories entirely beyond question, where they invariably failed to find much oil.
[A Greek perspective on the 1987 story can be found here; and a contemporary American perspective can be found here. Please contribute a Turkish perspective if you can; most appear to be in Turkish, which I can’t read. For now I note from the very interesting note by @Ahmet that the same bonanza-rific circle-jerk has been going on in Turkey. Many thanks!]
The latest craze was started in 2007 when newly-founded Aegean Energy (now apparently Energean Oil & Gas) took over the dying previous operator, Kavala Oil and started to pour $200m into the operation (full background here if you scroll down to the middle of the page; original source behind paywall here). Energean has now revived hopes of serious oil yields from Prinos and the newly completed Epsilon well. Even our own Government has joined in, claiming that Greece could produce a total of 40m barrels per year. In fact, it proposes that a state company entrusted with the exploitation of these resources be formed right away, even though it admits that the existing research into Greece’s potential for oil production is ‘fragmented, discontinuous and incomplete’. The rationale is that lacking such an agency costs us valuable income and that we’re the only EU country not to have one.
Unfortunately for the cause of sanity in economics and foreign affairs, the name of the promising Epsilon well plays straight into the hands of a bizarre eschatological conspiracy theory indigenous to Greece, which looks forward to the decisive intervention in the near future of the Epsilon Team, variously defined as a spacefaring group of Greek übermenschen or a collection of earth-bound industrialists and scientists with a Greek nationalist agenda. Take a few minutes to digest this before continuing.
Worse still, the kernels of truth in the mythos of Greece’s supposedly vast oil reserves have given rise to an enormous literature of conspiracy theories about how we Greeks are sitting on mountains of natural resources but our successive Governments, despite a record of raiding every other piggy bank in sight like some cocaine-addicted Houdini, somehow kept their hands off these because they were told to by their foreign / satanic / reptilian / Jewish masters. [For the uninitiated: The reason being that this vast wealth could have kept Greece out of debt and therefore ensured our continued independence.]
How ironic, then, for the conspiracy theorists, that one of the people most invested in Greek oil pipe dreams, the Chairman and Managing Director of Energean, one Mathios Rigas, was a Chase Manhattan Banker in the 1990s – the same bank Tro-ma-ktiko insists was busy masterminding the loss of Greek sovereignty during that time.
Worse, the timing of the Greek Government’s consultation into the creation of a new agency for the exploitation of our mineral wealth (it was directly preceded by a barrage of oil myth TV shows) suggests that one of the following is true:
1. The Greek Government is responding to this latest version of a conspiracy theory that has been making the rounds for decades because they are desperate for money and are willing to try anything.
2. The Greek Government is making a show of responding to this latest version of the conspiracy theory because they want to be seen to be doing something in the national interest for a change and knows that any kind of 'good news' could provide a psychological boost. It does not actually intend to follow through with the consultation.
3. Rent-seekers are using a well-established conspiracy theory which neither they nor the Government believe in (but which the people generally do believe) in order to create jobs and subsidies for themselves.
4. Rent-seekers are trying to seed within government a well-established conspiracy theory in order to create jobs and subsidies for themselves.
5. Greek and Turkish diplomats have hit upon a formula for joint exploitation of oil reserves which could make oil exploration profitable once again but need to over-sell the benefits of oil to their respective peoples in order to avoid a nationalist backlash.Whichever is the case, our history suggests that Greece has only ever looked to oil either as speculators, as in 1973, or in desperation, as today. It is also clear that the higher we raise the stakes of oil exploration the more we will inflame the open sore that is the sea border dispute.
A small review of the economics of the oil curse will follow in due course. I strongly urge any Greek readers to respond to the consultation and kill the new quango before it hatches.