Spain, Portugal hail Berlin call for Europe gas link

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Pipeline would be similar to the defunct MidCat project that sought to link Portugal, Spain to France, but which drew opposition from environmental groups and was halted in 2019 when financing fell through.

Spain and Portugal backed Germany’s call for a gas pipeline linking the Iberian Peninsula to central Europe on Friday, and Madrid said its part of the project could be operational within months.

The proposal came as Europe struggles to find ways to rapidly reduce its energy dependence on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, which has upended the power market and sent prices soaring and nations scrambling for supplies.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said a pipeline running through Portugal, Spain and France to central Europe was “conspicuously absent”.

If it existed, it could make “a massive contribution” to easing the supply crisis, he argued.

Spain currently has six liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals for processing gas that arrives by sea which could help the EU boost imports.

But it only has two low-capacity links to France’s gas network, which has connections to the rest of Europe.

Madrid has been pushing to revive the pipeline project linking the Catalan Pyrenees with France, which could significantly increase its supply capacity.

Speaking to Spain’s public television, ecology minister Teresa Ribera welcomed Scholz’s remarks and expressed Madrid’s “willingness to contribute to the energy crisis … using Spain’s regasification infrastructure”.

‘Straightforward interconnection’

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa also said such a pipeline link to central Europe was “a priority” and said Germany’s stance would increase “the pressure on European institutions” to make progress on this issue.

Ribera said while there was a good gas network in the Iberian Peninsula, the problem was transporting it across the Pyrenees.

Spain and its gas network operator Enagas were working with the French authorities to develop “a more straightforward interconnection”, she said.

“This pipeline across the Catalan Pyrenees would require an investment,” the Spanish minister continued.

“Enagas estimates that the pipeline could be operational within eight or nine months on the southern side of the border.”

The pipeline would be similar to the defunct MidCat project which sought to link Portugal, Spain to France, but which drew opposition from environmental groups and was halted in 2019 when financing fell through.

Vital link

An Enagas spokeswoman pointed out that, under its 2022-2030 strategic plan, the company aims to spend some 370 million euros ($380m) on the pipeline project.

“MidCat was envisioned for natural gas in a north-south flow, but this is different. In the initial phase, it will be able to transport gas, but in the future it will transport hydrogen,” said a source with knowledge of the proposed pipeline.

Before being abandoned, the MidCat pipeline was built to Hostalric, a village near Girona, meaning “there is about 100km [60 miles] left to be built”, the source said.

Given their importance for the entire EU, such gas pipelines should be funded centrally, Ribera said.

“This interconnection, which improves the security of gas supply in the rest of Europe, should be financed as a European project which we have to work on simultaneously with the French government,” she said.

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