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What preliminary environmental authorisations are required before commencing oil and gas-related activities?
The environmental authorisations required for oil and gas-related activities will largely depend on the type of activity being carried out and the area in which it is carried out. An integrated pollution prevention and control permit, which is an operating permit issued by the Environment and Resources Authority, and which controls the release of harmful emissions into the air, water and soil, may be required for certain oil and gas-related activities. Additionally, as part of the permitting process for the construction of oil and gas facilities, comprehensive environmental impact assessments may be required.
Regarding offshore activities, the government of Malta will grant a licence for oil and gas activities only where it is satisfied that the licensee has the financial capacity to cover liabilities which may potentially arise from the licensed activities – specifically, the environmental damage which might be caused. Additionally, prior to commencing operations, the licensee must prepare and submit to the Offshore Safety (Oil and Gas) Board a report detailing the safety and environmental management system of the installation. The licensee must also submit a report on major hazards which must contain, among other things, a description of the equipment and arrangements to ensure:
- containment of hazardous substances;
- prevention of fire and explosion;
- protection of the workers from hazardous substances; and
- protection of the environment from a major accident.
The report must also include an assessment of the identified potential environmental effects that would result from the loss of containment of pollutants arising from a major accident, and a description of the technical and non-technical measures envisaged to prevent, reduce or offset them, including monitoring.
What environmental protection requirements apply to the operation of oil and gas facilities?
General environmental protection laws regulating the discharge of emissions and pollutants into the air and the marine environment apply to oil and gas activities. Waste laws regulating the disposal of harmful substances also apply to such activities. The operation of certain oil and gas installations might also require an integrated pollution prevention and control permit, which would impose a number of additional monitoring and reporting obligations on the operator.
Apart from the above, the Prevention and Remedying of Environmental Damage Regulations (Subsidiary Legislation 549.97) also apply to oil and gas activities. These regulations require an operator or licensee to take all necessary preventative measures in the event of an imminent threat of environmental damage. Where environmental damage has occurred, the operator must inform the competent authority immediately of the situation and take all steps necessary to control, contain and remove or otherwise manage the contamination or other harm caused.
What are the consequences of failure to observe the relevant environmental regulations and to what extent can operators be held liable for environmental damage?
Violations of environmental laws and regulations may lead to both civil and criminal penalties. Violations occurring during the development of a project can result in the suspension of development activities until the environmental harm is remedied. Violations which occur during operation may result in the suspension or revocation of the permit or authorisation.
In terms of the Prevention and Remedying of Environmental Damage Regulations, an operator may be held liable for the full costs of remedying the environmental harm caused through its activities. The operator would also be required to reimburse the competent authorities (including emergency responders) for the costs incurred in taking remedial action and responding to the harm.
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