6. Malta’s hydrocarbon exploration history
Hydrocarbon exploration in Malta’s continental shelf was sparked with the discovery of oil in Triassic dolomites in Ragusa in 1953. Local businessmen set up the Oil Development Company (Malta) Ltd to explore for hydrocarbons but failed due to the lack of capital. The following year, D’Arcy Exploration, later British Petroleum, was granted mining rights over the Maltese land area. From 1955 to 1959, BP drilled 3 stratigraphic holes and in 1958 drilled Naxxar-2 down to the Cretaceous limestones, with negative results. It failed to reach the primary objective, the Triassic, and BP relinquished the license the following year.
Following the enactment of the Continental Shelf Act in 1966, Malta’s offshore acreage was opened for exploration in the 1970’s. Shell, Aquitaine and Home Oil were awarded offshore licenses, with 4 dry wells being drilled between 1970 and 1973. Although the wells did not reach the Triassic main objective due to drilling depth limitations, they confirmed the presence of the carbonate sequence.
In 1974 the Medina Bank acreage was opened, and Texaco, JOC and Aquitaine were awarded blocks, with Medina Bank-1 drilled in 1980, 68 nautical miles south-east of Malta. Drilling had to be suspended when Libyan gunships threatened the Saipem rig when Libya claimed economic rights to the area. The matter was raised at the International Court of Justice in 1982, with the 1985 ruling dealing with only part of the contested territory.
IEOC and Reading & Bates were awarded concessions to the north of Malta in 1981, R&B drilling Gozo-1 in 1982 and IEOC drilling Alexia-2 in 1983. The latter well tested oil shows in the Triassic, while Gozo-1 was suspended in Cretaceous shales, short of the Triassic objective.
From 1990 to 2002 various blocks were awarded, with four wells being drilled. Both Valletta-1 drilled by Amoco/BHP in 1991 and Tama-1, drilled in 1993 by Amoco/Agip, were dry. The Government of Malta drilled Madonna taz-Zejt in 1998, while ENI drilled Lampuko-1 in 2002, both with hydrocarbon shows. Although hydrocarbons were not of commercial volumes, these technical discoveries proved a working petroleum system.
Since 2002, blocks changed hands several times. In 2005, Pancontinental was commissioned by Anadarko to carry out a seismic programme over the Chianti and Limoncello prospects, which it considered to be world class prospects. However, this had to be suspended due to a border dispute between Malta and Tunisia and Libya. Malta and Tunisia sign agreement on joint oil exploration in zones of the continental shelf in 2006.
In 2012, the Italian government unilaterally extended its continental shelf between Sicily and Libya, effectively stepping over large areas of Malta’s continental shelf.
After Lampuko-1 in 2002, only one well was drilled. Hagar Qim-1 was drilled by Genel Energy 150 kms south of Malta in 2014. Primary objective was the shallower Eocene, but no hydrocarbons were discovered, and the well was plugged and abandoned.