Malta has not accessed its hydrocarbon potential – Chamber of Geologists

Malta has not properly explored its continental shelf to access its significant hydrocarbon potential, the Malta Chamber of Geologists said in a document.

The document said that Malta remains the country most dependent on hydrocarbons for its energy in the European Union (EU). Hydrocarbons supply 90% of Malta’s electricity, with photovoltaic panels producing the remaining 10%.

It said that as things stand the energy mix in Malta is unlikely to change significantly and natural gas will remain the country’s main source of energy, besides the mention of more solar panels and a wind farm.

The chamber said that Malta has a continental shelf of over 70,000 km2, however, most of this is underexplored. It revealed that only 13 relatively deep wells have been drilled, in comparison to Italy’s 6,000 wells over the past 70 years.

It added that Malta’s continental shelf has significant hydrocarbon potential as shown by the discoveries of gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean.

However, Malta has still failed to attract any substantial investment from oil and gas exploration companies in the past decade, the chamber said.

The chamber is asking why has Malta failed in the sector when it is the country most dependent on hydrocarbons in the EU.

With regard to exploration licensing, the document mentions how whereas Europe as a whole is increasing the number of licences for drilling and gas production, Malta’s issued licenses have decreased.

“The contrast between Malta and the rest of Europe has its consequences and the Malta Government is now constrained to subsidise the increased price of gas at an estimated cost of 1.1 billion euros,” the chamber said.

With the increased demand for gas, the chamber found it surprising that the number of wells drilled has declined in the past two decades.

All that being said, the document mentioned how with the war in Ukraine at large and Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy, Europe as a whole is experiencing the worst energy crisis in decades due to a shortage of fossil fuels, notably natural gas.

“The sanctions imposed on Russia have led to an approximate 60% reduction in the import of Russian natural gas into Europe. Countries within the European Union have responded to the exorbitant energy prices by introducing large subsidies, price caps on natural gas, and other support packages to help consumers and utility companies.”

The chamber also brought up Malta’s target to reach net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. It suggested that besides solar and wind Malta should also consider exploring geothermal and hydrogen as energy sources.

The document addresses how geothermal and hydrogen energy could be an effective clean source of energy for Malta, however, neither of these is mentioned in the government’s plans for renewable energy sources.

Moving forward, the chamber is suggesting better administrative structures by implementing new entities. The two structures which currently exist are the Continental Shelf Department and the Oil Exploration Committee. The chamber called these two structures “relatively dormant or inactive”.

The chamber is proposing including a Malta geological service that would work as the official advisor to the government on natural resources, an oil and gas authority that will regulate the hydrocarbon exploration sector, and a national oil and gas company that will license large parts of the continental shelf.

The chamber is also asking for the profession of geologists to be recognised as currently, Malta is the only European state that does not recognise it as a profession. It is asking for the warranting board to be set up between the relevant Ministry and the Malta Chamber of Geologists.

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