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Energy For Members

Is Spain ready to be the EU's main natural gas supplier?

The Local Spain
The Local Spain - [email protected]
Is Spain ready to be the EU's main natural gas supplier?
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (R) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as she arrives for their meeting at La Moncloa Palace in Madrid on March 5th, 2022. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

The EU believes Spain can play a pivotal role in reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, but is the Spanish energy infrastructure ready to meet such demands?

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During an official visit to Madrid last Saturday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed the "important role" Spain could play in reducing the EU’s dependence on gas from Russia. 

"We have to free ourselves from Russian gas, oil and coal," the EC president stressed, as the lack of natural resources means the EU has to import 40 percent of the energy it consumes.

Von der Leyen wants to entrust this responsibility to Pedro Sánchez’s government because Spain is the country with the largest gas storage and regasification capacity in Europe.

According to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE), which is made up of 67 companies in 26 European countries including the United Kingdom, 35 percent of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage capacity in the EU and the UK is in Spain. 

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Spain’s LNG storage capacity of 3.31 million cubic metres is higher than the United Kingdom’s 2.09 million (22 percent of the total), France 1.35 million (14 percent), Belgium’s 0.56 million (6 percent) and Italy 0.54 million (5 percent).

Spain ranks 93rd in the world for natural gas reserves and therefore imports 99 percent of its natural gas from ten different countries, which gives the Spanish gas system a high supply capacity. 

Most of it comes from Algeria (44 percent), and only 10.5 percent from Russia.

There are three main underground gas storage centres in Spain located in strategic positions in the north and centre of the country.

According to Spain's national gas grid operator Enagás, 58 percent of this gas reaches Spain by gas pipeline while the remaining 42 percent does so in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) that is transported by ships at 160 degrees below zero in methane tankers.

This gas in a liquid state is unloaded at different plants and through a regasification process the temperature is increased so that it passes into a gaseous state in order for it to be injected into gas pipelines for transportation.

Spain is also at the forefront in Europe when it comes to regasification capacity.

Its infrastructure accounts for 27 percent of all the regasification capacity of GIE countries, with the UK again in second place with 22 percent of the total and France in third with 17 percent. 

Enagás has four regasification plants in Barcelona, ​​Cartagena (Murcia), Huelva and Gijón, the latter not yet operational.

All this evidence suggests Spain can be in a position to help Europe free itself from Russia’s energy grip, but are there any obstacles that could prevent it from happening? 

In 2021, Spain imported 44 percent of its natural gas from Algeria. (Photo by AFP)

 

What problems could Spain face in supplying natural gas to the EU?

The main issue that would have to be solved is the lack of existing gas pipeline connections between Spain and the rest of mainland Europe. 

This could potentially cause a bottleneck at the Pyrenees.

The Midcast gasoduct, a gas pipeline project that was put on hold due to objections by Spanish and French regulators, may have to be resumed. 

Spain’s Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera on Monday March 9th said her government is willing to kick-start the project in Catalonia, as long as the EU covers the cost.  

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"Spain's regasification and gas storage capacity is so large that it makes sense that it could also be beneficial for our European neighbours and for their security of supply," Ribera acknowledged.

Despite this enormous capacity, in late 2021 Enagás reported that the country’s underground gas storage centres were 82 percent full already, which calls into question just how much more natural gas Spain could store for the gargantuan task of supplying 450 million EU citizens.

Much of this gas supply to the EU would also depend on Algeria, and the ongoing diplomatic spat between the north African nation and its neighbour Morocco has resulted in Spain being sandwiched in the middle. 

This resulted in Algeria temporarily cutting gas supplies to Spain last year (the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline passes through Morocco), so it could prove troublesome in future. 

Fortunately however, the other route is the Medgaz gas pipeline, through which Algeria sends gas directly to the Spanish mainland. Its capacity has now been increased and an extension of the gasoduct is about to become fully operational.

The question that remains is whether Spain will be able to rise to the challenge, and in doing so, increase its influence within the EU, diversify its economy and create new jobs.

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