Monday, 3 June 2013
Attention turns to offshore Malta
As IOCs have ramped up their activities in the Mediterranean Sea this year, amid the announcement of a licensing round scheduled for November in Lebanon, discoveries offshore Israel and significant exploration activities offshore Cyprus, several independents, including Genel Energy and Cairn Energy, have been awarded permits to explore for oil offshore Malta.
Heritage Oil, which shares licences for Areas 2 and 7 with the Maltese government, amounting to an area over 18,000 km² some 80 km off Malta's southeast coast, has announced that these Areas are “underexplored” and hinted at the existence of deepwater prospects after analysing newly acquired 2D seismic data. Despite the Jersey-based company's intention to drill a high-impact well in this area, it is awaiting the resolution of a border dispute between Malta and Libya before it can commence drilling.
Dating back to 1974, the border dispute between Malta and Libya started when Valetta awarded Texaco four blocks that lay north of the median line between Malta and Libya. After Texaco spudded their first well in 1980, exploration activities were forced to a halt following the despatch of a gunboat by Tripoli.
The dispute was taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1982. After considering the case for three years, it was decided that the border would lie 18' north of the median line, to account for the disparity in the length of Libya and Malta's respective coastlines. Although both sides accepted the agreement, it only applied to a narrow strip of water and so border disputes continue to this day. Area 7, in which Heritage wants to drill, lies to the east and south of the designated border, and as such, Libya considers it to be in its territory. This was reaffirmed to Heritage by the Libya National Oil Company (LNOC) in 2008, shortly after the company received the block.
While the revolution in Libya may have removed from power those who were initially involved in the border dispute in the early 1980s, as well as the head of the LNOC who communicated with Heritage in 2008, and presented new security challenges to the current administration, there is no doubt that the oil-rich North African state will respond robustly if it feels Malta is drilling within the Libyan continental shelf. The imperative to resolve this long-standing border dispute will become more acute as the new finds lure larger oil and gas players into the increasingly competitive Mediterranean operating environment.