New push for oil, gas exploration off Malta

Offshore area north of Malta opened for exploration, production licences

The government appears to be trying to start a new push for oil and gas exploration in Maltese waters after all activities ground to a stop.

A notice issued in the official journal of the European Union today says that Blocks 1, 2 and 3 of Area 3, an area of 6,000 square kilometres north of Malta, are now available "for authorisation on a permanent basis under either an exploration licence or an exploration and production licence".

Last year, oil exploration firm Rockhopper said it would not renew its agreement for oil exploration in Area 3. The agreement expired in December. The operator, Cairn Energy had told Times of Malta that it was not conducting any activity in Malta and it had “no news to report” when asked about its plans for 2017. 

In July, the Maltese government appointed former Air Malta chairman Maria Micallef as head of the National Oil Corporation within the Office of the Prime Minister.

"Her skills will now be used to make a turnaround in this area, particularly in the field of oil exploration," the government had announced.

The history of Malta’s oil exploration efforts has been disappointing. Oil exploration efforts have been made offshore north and south of Malta as well as onshore both in Malta and Gozo. Thirteen wells were drilled in the past 60 years, but no results were achieved. Interest in oil exploration also eased when prices collapsed.

Malta's oil exploration efforts also led to tensions with countries Malta had considered as friends. The most prominent incident occurred in the 1980s when Libya sent a gunboat to stop an Italian oil rig from drilling for Malta in an area it considered as its own.

The issue of delineation of the continental shelf also led to problems with Italy and in 2015 the two countries informally agreed to observe a moratorium on oil exploration activities in a vast offshore area southeast of Sicily and Malta where both countries have overlapping claims.

That area is mostly east of Malta.

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