For the past two years, the residents of Greece’s northwest province of Epirus have been tripping up on short wooden stakes planted about a foot high in the ground. They stand in rows that continue interminably through villages, over meadows and mountains, blue ribbons fluttering from their tops.
Few Epirots are aware that these stakes do not mark any future road, overhead cable or utility pipe.
They are grid markers that allow engineers to evenly space hundreds of controlled, underground explosions that will send shock waves into Epirus’ subsurface, creating three-dimensional maps of its rock formations.
Engineers believe those formations will suggest the presence of oil and natural gas.
Epirus is perhaps the last place on Earth where one would expect to find hydrocarbon exploration.
It is a pastoral landscape of tilted meadows, gorges so deep and vast that birds born in them never need to fly elsewhere, lakes that reflect the sky as clear as mercury, and savage, snow-topped mountains that drop into an azure Ionian sea.
This is a still-pristine world many Epirots do not want to be sullied.
“Humanity will one day face shortages of drinkable water, and we have some of Europe’s finest water here,” said Vasilis Dimitriou, an activist with Greenpeace.
He questions the wisdom of driving concrete pipes through the water table to extract oil that may lie beneath it.
“If there is a fracture and oil seeps into the water table, the area is ruined.”
Dimitriou says there was no consultation with residents when the government sold 11 exploration concessions that stretch down the entire length of Greece’s west coast, on and off shore.