‘Why has Malta given up on oil and gas exploration’, asks geologist
Geologist Peter Gatt wondered why Malta had apparently given up on oil and gas exploration, especially when its Mediterranean counterparts in the country discovered such reserves over the past decade.
Gatt was reacting to a statement made by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana in his budget speech last Monday, in which Caruana said “Malta has no oil and gas”.
Such a statement, Gatt said, must be seen in the context of the fact that Caruana is the minister responsible for oil and gas exploration – he heads the Oil Exploration Committee – and that “Malta is the country of the EU the most dependent on hydrocarbons (oil and gas) for its energy needs.
The latter point means Malta has to import most of its energy at a cost of over â¬ 1 billion in hydrocarbon imports each year, he said.
Gatt said four questions arise as a result of Caruana’s statement.
âWhy has Malta given up on oil and gas exploration when its neighbors Israel, Cyprus, Egypt and Greece have been actively exploring and discovering oil and gas over the past decade? Israel is now a gas exporter, âGatt began.
“Who (wrongly) informed the minister that Malta has no oil and gas?” Can the “geologist” or whoever gave this advice be named and provide the “proof”? “
“Why hasn’t the EU country most dependent on energy imports launched an active oil and gas exploration program, especially when the same Minister Caruana is now engaged in legislation to the creation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ)? “
“Why do we need an EEZ when Malta does not have an oil and gas exploration program (or has had a failed program) and the Minister is so convinced that” Malta has no oil and gas â? “
At present, there is no oil and gas production in Malta, although there have been efforts in the north and south of the island in hopes of hitting one of the two .
Exploration activity in Malta was sparked when oil was discovered near Ragusa in Sicily in 1953. Onshore wells were dug at Naxxar, Zabbar and Ghar Lapsi, to no avail, which brought in intrepid operators to look abroad instead.
In the early 1970s, offshore licenses were awarded to Shell, Aquitaine and Home Oil, and four dry wells were dug between 1971 and 1973. Although some oil showings were discovered, there was no recoverable prospect there.
Texaco received an offshore license soon after, and in 1980 began to explore an area known as the Medina Bank, which eventually became the cause of significant political tensions between Malta and Libya.
Drilling was actually halted after a border dispute with Libya saw the North Africans send a gunboat towards the platform. It was not until 1985 that the problem was resolved.
The government itself dug an onshore well known as Madonna Taz-Zejt in 1998 in Gozo, which gave some evidence of gas but no usable reserve.
The last well to be dug dates back to 2014 about 150 kilometers off the coast of Hagar Qim.
Two companies currently hold licenses for oil exploration. These are Heritage Oil – which has had a permit since 2007, and Edison International – which has an exploration agreement since 2019.