Berliner TageBlatt - Spain an option as EU tries to cut reliance on Russian gas

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Spain an option as EU tries to cut reliance on Russian gas
Spain an option as EU tries to cut reliance on Russian gas / Foto: © AFP

Spain an option as EU tries to cut reliance on Russian gas

With its undersea pipeline links to Algeria and vast network of liquified natural gas terminals, Spain is well placed to help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian gas imports.

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But this option would require massive investment to create pipelines to take gas from Spain to other European countries.

The European Commission set a target on Tuesday to cut the EU's Russian gas imports by two thirds by the end of the year following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

"Spain can and will play an important role in supplying Europe," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Saturday in Madrid following talks with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Russia currently supplies 40 percent of the EU's gas needs, with Italy and Germany especially dependent.

Spain has six terminals for regasifying and storing liquified natural gas (LNG) transported by sea, the largest network in Europe.

Gas which is transported in liquified form to decrease its volume then needs to be converted back to natural gas to atmospheric temperature.

Separately, a 750-kilometre (465-mile) deepwater pipeline called Medgaz directly links gas-rich Algeria with southern Spain.

A second underwater pipeline, called GME (Gaz Maghreb Europe), links Spain to Algeria via Morocco but Algiers in November shut supply through it due to a diplomatic conflict with Rabat.

"The country has a supply capacity that is both large and diversified" and "depends very little on Russian gas," said Thierry Bros, an energy expert at France's Sciences Po university.

- 'Part of the solution' -

Spain and Portugal are home to one-third of the European Union and Britain's regasification capacity, according to Gas Infrastructure Group (GIE), an industry group.

Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said Tuesday that "it makes sense" to use this capacity to "benefit our neighbours" and secure gas supplies.

Spain and Portugal have the capacity to import 40 terawatt hours (TWh) of natural gas, although the two nations generally consume less than 30 TWh, said Gonzalo Escribano, an energy expert at the Spain's Elcano Institute think tank.

That means at least 10 TWh per month could be exported, without counting gas that can arrive by the GME underwater pipeline, he added.

"This is by no means insignificant," said Escribano, adding Spain "could be part of the solution" to the problem of the EU's dependency on Russian gas.

The problem is that there are only two pipelines between Spain and France which have little capacity and building new ones would take years.

A long-planned pipeline linking Spain's northeastern Catalonia region to France dubbed Midcat was abandoned in 2019 due to a lack of agreement of its financing and lack of support in France.

A feasibility study ordered by the European Commission concluded in 2018 the project -- estimated to cost over 440 million euros ($480 million) -- would not be profitable or necessary.

- 'Can't rewrite history' -

But Spain's Economy Minister Nadia Calvino has said that now is the right time to restart the project, adding that it should also be suitable to transport green hydrogen, a low-carbon fuel.

Von der Leyen said boosting gas "interconnections" in Europe "is one of our major priorities".

Portugal has also publicly backed the creation of a new gas pipeline between Spain and France but experts are cooler to the idea.

While the international context has changed and this could justify restarting the project, work on the pipeline would "last for years" when it is needed now, said Escribano.

Bros of Sciences Po university said a new pipeline "is not a short-term solution" and warned that "Algeria's capacity to supplant Russian supply is limited".

"We can't rewrite history," he said.

"The country that has the greatest need of gas is Germany. It would therefore be more useful to have gas terminals there than a gas pipeline between France and Spain," he added.

R.Adler--BTB