Malta raised “serious concerns” over rules proposed by the European Commission obliging oil companies to increase their security to avoid an environmental disaster.

Resources Minister George Pullicino told the EU’s Energy Council in Brussels that while Malta agreed with the rules’ overall aims, it had series doubts on their impact on small oil exploration companies.

“Malta is concerned about the substantial financial burden the rules will impose on small- and medium-sized oil companies if they are made fully liable for any damage to any EU marine waters,” Mr Pullicino said.

“These companies have long been active in exploring EU waters and have contributed to Europe’s security of supply. The Commission should propose measures to ensure adequate financial measures are in place like risk pooling,” he added.

Opposition to some of the proposals were also raised by the UK and the Netherlands, particularly on the method chosen by the Commission for their implementation.

While the UK and the Netherlands would like the rules to take the shape of a directive, meaning member states will have about two years to make them part of their laws, the EU proposed a regulation. This will enter into force immediately after agreement is reached by member states and the European Parliament.

Through these rules, companies holding oil licences will be liable for any environmental damage caused by their activities while stricter precautionary rules will be put in place to minimise health and safety risks.

Before deciding on giving a particular licence, member states will have to ensure that only operators with the sufficient technical and financial capacities necessary to control the safety of offshore activities and environmental protection are allowed to conduct oil and gas activities in EU waters, among others.

The new regulation also proposes that oil companies will have to prepare a major hazard report containing a risk assessment and an emergency response plan before exploration or production begins.

Thirteen member states have active oil and gas installations on their territory while Malta and Cyprus have also issued exploration licences although none are yet active.

Just this week, the government said it had received applications from three companies for oil exploration production sharing in Maltese waters. These will be evaluated in the coming weeks.

It is estimated there are about 100 oil and gas offshore installations in EU waters. The biggest installations are in the North Sea although Norway, not an EU member state, is also considered to be a leading oil producer.

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