Why the gas pipeline project between Spain and France is controversial

Posted on 8 Dec 2022 at 02:52 PM

Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez are due to launch an unprecedented energy project in Europe this Friday. In Portugal, also linked to the project, France and Spain want to build a gas pipeline to transport hydrogen between Barcelona and Fos-sur-Mer, near Marseille.

“For Spain, this is an energy opening up project. For France, this enables it to join the future European hydrogen backbone. The risk is that a competing project that directly connects Barcelona to Livorno, in Italy, without going through France, will be privileged”, says Patrice Geoffron, director of the Center for Geopolitics of Energy and Raw Materials at the University of Paris-Dauphine.

2030 is not new

Is the future “pipe” economically justified? Experts are divided on the relevance of this pipeline to be laid under the Mediterranean. First criticism, the project does not respond to the energy crisis triggered by the collapse of Russian gas exports to Europe. The gas pipeline will not enter service until 2030, estimates French Teréga, one of the gas operators involved in the project.

Within the government in Paris, we consider this date too optimistic, yielding “the next decade” for the start of operations. By then, the European Union will have reduced its gas consumption by 30%: this is the roadmap set out in the framework of the “Fit for 55” regulations adopted this year.

Greening the industry

Aware of this pitfall, the project’s defenders have now specified that the pipeline will only transport green hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from wind and solar electricity from Spain and Portugal, and not gas. Therefore it is part of a long-term vision. Carbon-free hydrogen is seen as an energy of the future in green industries that use gas extensively today: refineries, petrochemicals, steel production, cement works, etc.

But the tools are in their infancy. The prospects for the hydrogen market are too vague to justify the launch of such a heavy and costly infrastructure (Teréga speaks of two billion euros), critics denounced. “The amount of future hydrogen demand and its location remain uncertain,” says David Cebon, professor at Cambridge and member of the Hydrogen Science Coalition.


The same goes for production. Who can say that the Iberian Peninsula will have enough hydrogen surplus to export it? Are we sure that Spain and Portugal will have “abundant” green energy, while both countries still rely heavily on gas to produce their electricity? For this expert, it would be “irresponsible” to launch such a project “before knowing where both demand and supply will come from”.

Transporting hydrogen over long distances is itself controversial. First because it requires pipes that will have an impact on the environment. NGOs are already at war, worried about the Mediterranean seabed. And the carbon footprint is not unified. Hydrogen would certainly be green, but “transporting it long distances is potentially worse for the climate than burning natural gas,” said Ana Maria Jaller-Makarewicz, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis .

European sovereignty

Emmanuel Macron himself was not convinced until recently. “It is absurd to transport hydrogen from Spain to France, declared the Head of State on September 5. What should be brought is the low-carbon electricity produced in Spain to go and do the electrolysis in (the industrial area) that will require hydrogen”. The position of the President of the Republic has clearly changed. The main goal is “European energy sovereignty”, we defend at the Elysée. More importantly, Paris wants to limit imports of hydrogen produced outside Europe.

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