Geologist Peter Gatt asked why Malta had apparently given up oil and gas exploration, especially when the country’s Mediterranean counterparts had 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, in which Caruana stated that “Malta has no oil and gas.”
Such a statement, Gatt said, should be seen in the context of the fact that Caruana is the minister responsible for oil and gas exploration – he chairs the Oil Exploration Committee – and that “Malta is the EU country that is most dependent on hydrocarbons (oil & gas) for its energy needs. “
He said that this last point means that Malta has to import most of its energy at a cost of more than one billion euros of hydrocarbon imports every year.
Gatt said that four questions arise after Caruana’s statement.
“Why Malta has given up oil and gas exploration when its neighbors Israel, Cyprus, Egypt and Greece are actively exploring and discovering oil and gas in the last decade years? Israel is now an exporter of gas, ”Gatt began.
“Who (wrongly) advised the Minister that Malta does not have oil and gas? Can the ‘geologist’ or whoever gave this advice be called and provide the ‘evidence’? “
“Why is the EU country most dependent on energy imports failing to embark on an active oil and gas exploration program, especially when the same Minister Caruana is now engaged in legislation for the establishment of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEA)? “
“Why do we need an EEA when Malta does not have an oil and gas exploration program (or has had a failed program) and the Minister is so confident that ‘Malta has no oil and gas’?”
There is currently no oil and gas production in Malta, although there have been efforts in both the north and south of the island in the hope of hitting either.
Exploration activity in Malta was caused when oil was found near Ragusa in Sicily in 1953. Wells were excavated on land in Naxxar, Żabbar, and Ghar Lapsi, to no avail, and this led to brave operators turning their attention away from the shores instead.
Shell, Aquitaine and Home Oil were licensed offshore in the early 1970s, and four dry weels were excavated between 1971 and 1973. While oil displays were found, there were no recoverable prospects there.
Texaco received an offshore license shortly afterwards and in 1980 began exploring an area known as the Medina Bank – something that eventually became the cause of significant political tension between Malta and Libya.
Excavation was actually halted after a border dispute with Libya saw North Africans send a gunboat to the rig. It was only in 1985 that the issue was resolved.
The government itself dug a well on the land known as Madonna Taz-Zejt in 1998 in Gozo, which gave some gas displays but no reserves that could be used.
The last well to be drilled was in 2014 about 150 kilometers offshore from Hagar Qim.
Two companies currently have licenses for oil exploration. These are Heritage Oil – which has been licensed since 2007, and Edison International – which have had exploration agreements since 2019.