A leading Maltese geologist has warned that the islands may be doomed to repeat the collapse of a block of apartments in Gwardamanġa if we continue to excavate without fully assessing the underlying rock formations.
With high-rises going up around the island, an approved tunnel to Gozo, and even a possible metro service on the cards, Dr Peter Gatt is warning that a National Geological Service is needed now more than ever.
“Malta is the only European country which does not have a National Geological Service,” Dr Gatt told Lovin Malta. “Every country that has achieved independence in the last few decades like Malta have all established their own national geological service, and that puts us at a disadvantage.”
A National Geological Service would be a state-run organisation, and would become a central part of assessing whether a project may have a fatal flaw in the design
“Not having an assessment increases the risk when excavating, and it increases the risk when it comes to any tunnelling,” he said.
Regards the Gwardamanġa collapse specifically, Dr Gatt said he hadn’t visited the site in person, but recounted a similar collapse in Sliema a few years back where lives may have been lost, and said Malta couldn’t rule out the underlying rock formation being part of the blame.
“The rocks themselves are part of the foundations – if there was some deformation in the underlying rocks, the foundations will be effected,” he said. “And, once again, it was next to an excavation site. The problem lies with the excavation into the underlying rock, which could lead to fractures that could lead to failures within the rocks.”
“Whenever you excavate, there’s always the danger of having some kind of rock failure,” he said. “If a fracture occurs, we could have a big failure,” he continued, noting that limestone itself is susceptible to fractures.
“The fact that we don’t have a state institution, a national geological service, is risky, because when there are situations when one can suspect there could be rock failure, there’s no institution that can assess the site,” he said.
“This cannot be done by architects; the problem here is the nature of the rock and propensity of it to fail when excavated, and you need the right experts to give advice, even in shallow excavations, though with deeper excavations obviously increases risk,” he said.
Dr Gatt has previously publicly called for a National Geological Service in Malta, and reiterated his call today
“We need one, especially if we are going forward with these mega projects, the high rises and tunnels, then we need this,” he said.
He pointed out how many of Malta’s surrounding countries – Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Isreal and Slovenia to name a few – had all set up national services, with great results.
“If the country wants to develop further to accommodate these mega projects, but even smaller projects like in Gwardamanġa, then we need to have proper geological assessment, and we need to have an institution that will spearhead this kind of assessment,” he said.
Indeed, it’s not only Maltese land that needs to be surveyed, but the sea bed as well
“The service will collect geological information, not just on land but also on the surrounded sea bed, and this could include oil exploration,” he said.
“Just look at the Eastern Mediterranean when it comes to oil exploration. We have Cyprus discovering offshore gas fields, and now Lebanon and Greece are getting involved, and there are many licenses being issued for drilling… and look at Malta,” Dr Gatt said.
“Hardly anything going on,” he lamented. “We are within the region, and we have a very large continental shelf, it’s even larger than that in Israel who have made some very large gas discoveries, and now Israel is exporting energy while we have to import practically 100% of our energy – and we have to pay for it quite dearly.”
“We are paying a high price for this – not just in lost lives and houses, but also missed opportunities,” he ended.