After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Madrid revived a call to strengthen Europe’s energy independence from Russia by building a massive gas pipeline called MidCat between Spain and France.
First launched in 2003, the 190 km (120 mile) Midi-Catalonia (MidCat) pipeline pumps gas across the Pyrenees from Hostalric north of Barcelona to Barbaira in south France.
The goal was to transport gas from Algeria via Spain to the rest of the European Union. Currently, there are only two small gas pipelines connecting Spain and France.
However, after several years of work, the project was halted in 2019 after energy regulators in both countries rejected the project over questions about its environmental impact and profitability.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the EU has promised to end Russia’s dependence on gas, which now supplies nearly 40% of the bloc’s gas demand.
A 750 km long deep-sea pipeline called Medgaz connects the already gas-rich Algeria with southern Spain.
A second underwater pipeline, called GME, connects Spain and Algeria via Morocco, but Algiers cut supply through this pipeline in November due to diplomatic clashes with Rabat.
Spain also has six terminals for regasification and storage of liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipped by sea, Europe’s largest network.
Gas arriving in Spain by sea and pipeline from Algeria can be sent to the rest of Europe via MidCat.
The MidCat pipeline is “important” to reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels and “to end the Kremlin blackmail,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday in Barcelona after Russia threatened to cut off gas supplies to the bloc. said while mentioning.
The MidCat pipeline faces several hurdles, starting with a massive price tag estimated at €440 million ($460 million) in 2018. It also takes 3-4 years to complete.
“Midcat cannot be approached as a short-term solution,” French ambassador to Spain Jean-Michel Casa Jus told the Barcelona-based daily La Vanguardia in March.
There is also a lack of links between France and Germany, the countries most interested in finding alternatives to Russian gas.
“It would be much simpler to bring the gas directly to Germany by ship,” said Thierry Bros, an energy expert at the University of Science Po in Paris.
“Of course, this would require building a gas terminal in Germany.” But the cost won’t be higher than building the MidCat, he told AFP.
Despite controversy over usefulness, MidCat has gained considerable support, especially in Spain, where authorities are pushing Brussels to declare the project as “community interest”.
France has so far been more reserved, but according to Madrid this position is changing.
Spain’s Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said there is a new “awareness of the risks and opportunities” that MidCat brings, adding that Paris “understands” that the Midcat “must” be built.
There are also questions about project financing.
Madrid argues that Brussels should bear the cost, not the Spanish taxpayer, as the project will benefit the entire EU.
However, the European Commission has not yet committed to funding.
Spain also wants the pipeline to be compatible with green hydrogen transport. We hope this will increase the attractiveness of Brussels, which prioritizes financing renewable energy projects.