The war in Ukraine revives the France-Spain MidCat gas pipeline project
Madrid has called for the relaunch of the MidCat gas pipeline project to link the Spanish gas network to France, as it could help reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia – Copyright AFP/File Josep LAGO
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Madrid has revived calls for the construction of a huge gas pipeline between Spain and France, dubbed MidCat, which would strengthen Europe’s energy independence from Russia.
What is MidCat?
Originally launched in 2003, the 190-kilometre (120-mile) Midi-Catalonia Gas Pipeline (MidCat) would pump gas through the Pyrenees from Hostalric, just north of Barcelona, to Barbaira in southern France.
Its aim was to transport gas from Algeria via Spain to the rest of the European Union. There are currently only two small gas pipelines connecting Spain and France.
But after several years of work, the project was scrapped in 2019 after energy regulators in both countries rejected it amid questions about its environmental impact and profitability.
Why restart it?
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the EU has pledged to end its dependence on Russian gas, which currently supplies almost 40% of the bloc’s gas needs.
A 750-kilometre deep-water pipeline called Medgaz already links gas-rich Algeria to southern Spain.
A second undersea pipeline, called GME, links Spain to Algeria via Morocco, but Algiers shut down its supply in November due to a diplomatic row with Rabat.
Spain also has six regasification and storage terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported by sea, the largest network in Europe.
Gas that arrives in Spain by sea and by pipeline from Algeria could then be transported to the rest of Europe via MidCat.
The MidCat pipeline is ‘crucial’ to reducing the EU’s reliance on fossil fuels and ‘ending Kremlin blackmail’, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday in Barcelona in reference to threats from Russia to suspend its gas supplies to the block.
What are the obstacles ?
The MidCat pipeline faces several hurdles, starting with its huge estimated price in 2018 of 440 million euros ($460 million). It would also take three to four years to complete.
“MidCat cannot be approached as a short-term solution,” French Ambassador to Spain Jean-Michel Casa said in an interview with Barcelona daily La Vanguadia in March.
Moreover, there is a lack of connections between France and Germany, the country most interested in finding alternatives to Russian gas.
It would be “much simpler to bring gas directly by ship to Germany”, said Thierry Bros, energy specialist at the University of Science Po in Paris.
“This would of course require building gas terminals in Germany” but their cost would not be higher than the construction of MidCat, he explained to AFP.
What support ?
Despite the debate on its usefulness, MidCat enjoys significant support, particularly in Spain where the authorities are pushing Brussels to declare the project “of community interest”.
France have so far been more reserved but according to Madrid that stance is changing.
There is a new “perception of risks and opportunities” that MidCat brings, said Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera, adding that Paris “understands” that Midcat “must” be built.
There are also questions about the financing of the project.
Madrid argues that Brussels should foot the bill, not Spanish taxpayers, as the project would benefit the whole EU.
But the European Commission has not yet committed to funding it.
Spain also wants the gas pipeline to be compatible with the transport of green hydrogen, in the hope of strengthening its attractiveness to Brussels, which has made the financing of renewable energy projects a priority.