The Continental Shelf Department within the Ministry for Finance has published online an ‘updated’ geological map of the Maltese islands.

The ‘updated’ geological map contains several and multiple errors and replicates the significant stratigraphical omissions and mapping errors of the geological maps produced from during the colonial administration up to the last geological map published in 1993.

A routine desk study would have revealed publications and PhDs by Maltese geologists who have contributed significantly to the updating of Malta’s stratigraphy but were ignored.

To make matters worse, the names of authors of the ‘updated’ map are not disclosed and remain secret. Acknowledgement of authorship is an essential requisite for credibility and accountability in any publication with scientific content.

Such errors and secrecy happen when matters that pertain to geologists are left in the hands of persons who are not geologists. The Malta Chamber of Geologists (MCG) has insisted on the recognition of the profession of the geologist but Malta remains the only country in Europe where geologists have no official or legal recognition.

Malta also remains the only European country without a national geological service. Countries that achieved independence decades after ours have long established their own geological service or survey which is responsible for geological mapping and investigation of the country’s natural resources, as well as identifying potential geological hazards that can damage and destroy property and lives as often happens in the Mediterranean.

The president of Italy’s Consiglio Nazionale dei Geologi (the Italian counterpart of MCG), Arcangelo Violo reported that 97 per cent of Italian town councils have sites prone to geological hazards. Malta is not immune to such geohazards.

An erroneous geological map can have serious consequences for public safety and natural resources development. The geological map of the Maltese islands is mentioned in Legal Notice 136 of 2019 on the protection of third-party property during excavation but the requirement for a geological investigation that was enacted in LN 72 of 2013 was removed, exposing the public and especially third-party property alongside excavation sites to greater risks.

The intimate relationship between site geology and risks of rock excavation remains ignored in legislation. To make matters worse, the chairman of the Building Industry Consultative Council (BICC), Charles Buhagiar, denied the Malta Chamber of Geologists membership of the BICC Advisory Board. Geologists were also denied the possibility to contribute to the drafting of the Building Code. Despite the MCG’s representations to Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, the situation remains unchanged.

An erroneous geological map can have serious consequences- Peter Gatt

This deplorable situation contrasts with the approach taken in Europe where geologists are a recognised profession and contribute to the protection and safety of the public.

Over the past years, several of our members at the Malta Chamber of Geologists had offered their professional help to the Continental Shelf Department on matters concerning oil and gas exploration in Malta’s large continental shelf (EEZ) and sought permission to study geological data at the department but they were always denied based on ‘policy’.

The ‘policies’ of this department have resulted in a decline in the number of oil and gas exploration licences issued by Malta in the past years. This year, Malta had a record low of nil licences granted. This contrasts to other Mediterranean countries (Israel, Egypt, Cyprus) where the number of licences has increased significantly in the past decade and is projected to increase more (including in Italy, Greece and Croatia) in response to the energy crisis in Europe.

The Maltese people will now have to pay a high price for these failures which have forced Malta to be the most dependent European country on imported oil and gas. Imported hydrocarbons are now subsidised by the government, adding a significant burden on our economy and taxpayers. 

The Malta Chamber of Geologists calls for accountability for these failures and believes that the proper management and mapping of Malta’s natural resource can only be achieved by the recognition of the right professionals, the geologists.

Peter Gatt is president of the Malta Chamber of Geologists.

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