The Envrionmental Resources Authority has approved an environmetal impact assessment report for the construction of a gas pipeline between Malta and Sicily.

The authority said it does not object to the project as long as safeguarding conditions outlined in the report and eventually imposed through the conditions of the development permit are met.

The board met to decide on the project's final assessment report on Friday, and a vote in favour was taken, the authority said in a statement.

In 2017, the government set up Melita TransGas Ltd to oversee the project, which will see the laying of a 159km pipeline between Delimara and Gela in Sicily. The project is estimated to cost around €400 million.

The proposal includes land reclamation with the construction of a terminal station at the Delimara power station, a micro-tunnel route through the Delimara peninsula and the laying of an offshore pipeline up to the median line between Delimara and Gela.

ERA requested an EIA in 2017, which the authority said was submitted in February 2020. It was assessed taking into account the conclusions of the report as well as comments received from the public after a 30-day public consultation period.

According to the report, “notable geological impacts” could potentially arise during construction works in Delimara, however, these could be effectively mitigated through geotechnical modelling surveys to avoid existing cavities, as well as through the assessment of weathering rates throughout the works.

It estimated that 13,000 cubic metres of waste would be generated from the project, the majority of which can remain on site and be used in the land reclamation works.

Night-time lighting is also expected to significantly affect protected bird species in the area, as they can become distorted by bright lights. It recommended that this be mitigated by limiting the number of vessels working simultaneously and reducing illumination to the minimum safe levels.

Above ground and underwater noise generated during works were judged to be minor to moderate in significance. The report  added that good practices such as the use of air bubble screens for noisy works like trenching could lessen the impact.

With onshore tunnelling works taking place around 30 metres below ground level, impacts on architectural, archaeological, historical and cultural heritage were not envisaged, nor was impact on land or sea use, visual amenity, terrestrial water bodies and public access.

“The impact significance of each environmental parameter depends largely on the thorough implementation of pre-emptive safeguards, construction and operational mitigation measures, namely the use of silt curtain and suction dredger, air bubble screens, monitoring during construction (weathering rates in tunnel; rock stability; injured bird species and artefacts) oil spill prevention and response plans; and transplanting and monitoring of benthic assemblages,” the ERA said.

“In light of the findings of the assessment and overall considerations, ERA does not object to the proposal, as long as the various mitigation measures proposed in the EIA and AA Reports, are duly incorporated into the mainstream development consent mechanism and mitigated by means of conditions and specifications in the development permit.“

Malta was exploring other ways of funding the gas pipeline after it’s bid to tap into EU-funding for the project was unsuccessful in earlier this year.

The government had modified its pipeline bid after the European Commission said it was not keen on financing a project to carry natural gas, preferring more sustainable options such as hydrogen.

Malta’s modified bid was for a “hydrogen-ready pipeline” that would transport natural gas in the immediate term but be able to also funnel hydrogen from Italy without incurring any major additional expenses or damage to the system.

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