A Maltese subsidiary of a Jersey-based oil and gas drilling company has been granted an exploration licence to drill in two maritime zones off southeast Malta. 

The licence will entitle Albion Energy Malta Ltd to explore offshore areas two and seven, which cover approximately 18,000 square kilometres, for a two-year period.

The Finance Ministry announced the licence in a brief statement on Wednesday, saying the licence binds the company to carry out geological and geophysical studies on existing data. Finance Minister Clyde Caruana had said last December that the government was "evaluating" a licence bid.

In its statement, the ministry said that Albion Energy Malta Limited is owned by Albion Energy Limited.

Albion Energy is a large-scale oil and gas producer with a history of drilling in several sub-Saharan African countries as well as central Asia. Its CEO, Tony Buckingham, also founded Heritage Oil, which was granted a local oil exploration licence for the same two offshore zones - two and seven - back in 2007. 

Its Malta deal, which was originally intended to be a 30-year one, ended up going nowhere after a territorial dispute between Malta and Libya cast a pall of uncertainty over the legal ramifications of the arrangement. 

Until 2012, Buckingham was insisting that Heritage Oil was still very much interested in pursuing its Malta plans and had bought a controlling stake in a Libyan oil firm to allow it to overcome the dispute between Malta and Libya.

But as Libya descended into civil war, those plans dissipated. Buckingham would go on to sell Heritage Oil to Qatari investors two years later, in 2014. 

The sea to the south of Malta is considered to have a high potential for oil and gas finds, as it shares characteristics with several offshore oil fields in Libya.

However, multiple exploration attempts have all yielded no results, and figures tabled in parliament late last year showed that there were no active licences for oil exploration off Malta at the time.

The two-year agreement with Albion may be extended by a further two years subject to an additional work programme.

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