The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

‘Why has Malta given up on oil and gas exploration’, geologist queries

Albert Galea Thursday, 14 October 2021, 07:28 Last update: about 1 day ago

Geologist Peter Gatt has questioned why Malta has seemingly given up on oil and gas exploration, especially when the country’s Mediterranean counterparts have discovered such reserves in the last decade or so.

Gatt was reacting to a statement made by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana in his budget speech last Monday, wherein Caruana declared that “Malta has no oil and gas.”

Such a statement, Gatt said, must be viewed in the context of the fact that Caruana is the minister responsible for oil and gas exploration – he leads the Oil Exploration Committee – and that “Malta is the EU country most dependent on hydrocarbons (oil & gas) for its energy needs.”

This latter point means that Malta has to import most of its energy at a cost of over a billion euro of hydrocarbon imports every year, he said.

Gatt said that four questions arise following Caruana’s statement.

“Why has Malta given up on oil and gas exploration when neighbouring Israel, Cyprus, Egypt and Greece are actively exploring and discovering oil and gas in the past decade? Israel is now an exporter of gas,” Gatt began.

“Who has (wrongly) advised the Minister that Malta has no oil & gas? Can the 'geologist' or whoever gave this advice be named and provide the 'evidence'?”

“Why has the EU country most dependent on energy imports failed to embark on an active oil and gas exploration programme, especially when the same Minister Caruana is now engaged in legislation for the setting up of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)?”

“Why do we need an EEZ when Malta does not have an oil & gas exploration programme (or has had a failed programme) and the Minister is so confident that 'Malta does not have oil & gas'?”

At present there is no production of oil and gas in Malta, although there have been efforts off both the north and south of the island in the hope of striking either of the two.

Exploration activity in Malta was triggered when oil was discovered close to Ragusa in Sicily in 1953. Wells were dug onshore in Naxxar, Zabbar, and Ghar Lapsi, to no avail, leading to intrepid operators turning their attentions offshore instead.

In the early 70s offshore licences were awarded to Shell, Aquitaine and Home Oil, and four dry weels were dug between 1971 and 1973.  While some oil shows were found, there were no recoverable prospects there.

Texaco received an offshore licence soon after and in 1980 began to explore an area known as the Medina Bank – something which ultimately became the cause of significant political tension between Malta and Libya.

Drilling was in fact stopped after a boundary dispute with Libya saw the North Africans send a gun boat towards the rig.  It was only in 1985 that the issue was resolved.

The government itself dug an onshore well known as Madonna Taz-Zejt in 1998 in Gozo, which yielded some gas shows but no usable reserves.

The last well to be dug was in 2014 around 150 kilometres out to sea from Hagar Qim.

Two companies currently hold licenses for oil exploration.  These are Heritage Oil – who have had a licence since 2007, and Edison International – who have had an agreement for exploration since 2019.

 

 

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