In a troubled energy context, Europe is trying to get out of Russian dependence on the gas front. The war in Ukraine has relaunched a 10-year-old project: the “MidCat”, a 200 kilometer gas pipeline linking Catalonia to the South, is making a comeback on the European scene. La Dépêche du Midi returns in six questions to this project which is setting Europe ablaze.
It is an old sea serpent that is resurfacing in a context of a particularly tense energy market in Europe. The idea of a gas pipeline linking the South to Catalonia is resurfacing, while the Russian giant Gazprom announced on Tuesday August 30 that it would entirely suspend its gas deliveries to different European countries. Spain, Portugal and Germany have renewed their interest vis-à-vis this project but France is kicking in touch. The Midi Dispatch comes back to questions about the file.
What is the “MidCat” project?
The idea of a gas pipeline between the South and Catalonia was launched in 2013 at the initiative of the Spanish and French governments and with the support of the European Commission. The infrastructure, called “MidCat”, was to connect Hostalric, north of Barcelona to Barbaira (Aude), east of Carcassonne, via the Col du Perthus (Pyrénées-Orientales). 44 municipalities in Aude and 51 municipalities in Pyrénées-Orientales were concerned. The objective: to transport gas from northern Africa to northern Europe.
This new gas pipeline, nearly 200 kilometers long, would thus be added to two other already existing infrastructures, of low capacity, which currently link France to Spain at Larrau and Biriatou, in the French Basque Country.
Why build a new gas pipeline between Spain and France?
The “MidCat” project responded to specific strategic objectives. It was above all a question of transporting liquefied gas from Algeria to the countries of northern Europe. All the more important since Algeria supplies no less than 11% of the gas that is consumed in Europe. The MidCat should also make it possible to bring up the liquefied natural gas which arrives by ship from Nigeria, Qatar and even the United States, via the Spanish LNG ports.
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Spain is indeed an important gas transit country for Europe. In 2022, the country concentrates 34% of the regasification capacity of the European Union. Spain also owns 45% of EU gas storage capacity.
Why was the project abandoned?
The project, as presented to the European Commission, has been shortened and renamed South Transit East Pyrenees (STEP). In 2019, however, it was rejected by both the Energy Regulation Commission (CRE) and the Comisión nacional de los mercados y la competencia (CNMC) in Spain.
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The reasons are many. On the economic level first, it is the cost of this project that has been singled out: Europe had to pay no less than 500 million euros to build and install the gas pipeline. Its environmental impact then: whether in France or Spain, the project has aroused the ire of many environmental activists.
Why is the “MidCat” project being relaunched again?
The gradual decline in gas supplies from Russia is now prompting European leaders to find alternatives. This is the case of Germany, whose energy market was until now particularly dependent on Russian gas. Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz therefore pleaded for the construction of a gas pipeline linking Portugal to Germany, which would thus cross Spain and France: “This gas pipeline would greatly relieve the current supply situation” , supported the Chancellor.
Spain also stomps. Last Tuesday, August 30, on a local radio station, the Spanish Minister for Energy and the Environment, Teresa Ribera, defended the “MidCat” project: “We must prepare for next winter and , in this context, being able to complete an interconnection that did not make economic sense (in 2019)… but which could be crucial now to guarantee this supply that central and northern Europe lacks”. The Minister also affirms that the “MidCat” would provide “2 to 2.5%” of European gas consumption.
Why are the French authorities opposed to this project?
France is particularly reluctant on the issue of a gas pipeline linking Catalonia to the South, a position widely criticized by German and Spanish leaders. However, the French authorities are not completely closing the door to such a project: questioned by The Midi Dispatchthe Ministry of Ecological Transition states that “the development of new gas infrastructures is being studied to strengthen the link between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe”.
However, the French government considers “that such a project would in any case take many years to be operational (the study and work time for this type of infrastructure is always several years) and would therefore not respond to the crisis. current”. The Spanish government denies this assertion, and estimates that the gas pipeline could be operational within “8 to 9 months”.
The French government also considers that “the establishment of LNG terminals in northern and eastern Europe (and in particular in Germany) represents less and faster investment, a fortiori if it concerns terminals floating, better able to cope with the current context”. Finally, the Ministry of Ecological Transition considers that this project is not in line with the energy objectives that the various European countries have set themselves, namely to do without “fossil fuels by 2050”.
Are there other alternatives on the table?
If France maintains its opposition to the “MidCat” project, Spain wants to explore the possibility of a gas pipeline linking the Iberian Peninsula to Italy. “Faced with the reluctance of France, which considers it too expensive – even if it is intended to be financed by European funds –Pedro Sánchez (Prime Minister, editor’s note) is committed to another gas pipeline, submarine, linking Barcelona to Livorno (on the Italian west coast)”, writes the daily El Mundo.