BarMar pipeline ‘positive’ for European energy security, but won’t address current crisis: Expert

The underwater pipeline project that will connect Spain and France is a "positive" move for energy security in Europe, but it would not address the current crisis, an energy expert said.

The BarMar project "will be positive for European energy security. But it will take years before we will see it in operation, so it won't be useful for the current crisis," Peter Fraser, the former head of the gas, coal and power markets division at the International Energy Agency, told Anadolu Agency.

"What it does is send a signal to others that Europe will plan its energy networks to operate without Russian gas," he added.

The Iberian Peninsula will be connected to France by a new green energy corridor that will allow for the transportation of green hydrogen and, during a transitional time, natural gas from south to north.

This decision was made on Oct. 20 by Spain, France, and Portugal. The underwater pipeline that would link Barcelona and Marseille will serve as a new route for the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) into Germany, replacing the Midi-Catalonia Pipeline, also known as the MidCat.

The countries agreed that BarMar "must be technically upgraded to carry additional renewable gases, as well as a limited amount of natural gas as a temporary and transitional source of energy."

On whether the green energy corridor locks the region into additional gas infrastructure or not, Fraser said that he is not so concerned that this would pose a problem.

"A successful energy transition needs to be secure and affordable and so the energy security benefits of the line will help, rather than hinder the transition," he said.

Asked if he thinks the hydrogen demand of sectors is high enough to invest in such a hydrogen corridor, the expert said that the future level of demand for hydrogen has potential, but "where it will be produced and how much will be needed to be transported are all quite uncertain."

"There is an opportunity here if hydrogen demand grows strongly in Europe, but of course, there is also a risk as hydrogen can be produced in other countries in Europe," he said.

BarMar project 'not too complex' to build

Opposing claims of environmental NGOs, Fraser said that he does not think that it is too complex to build an underwater pipeline as there are already few examples of such applications.

"It is certainly a challenge to lay pipelines underwater but there are already several in Europe, across the Mediterranean Sea or the North Sea so I don't see it as too complex," he said.

In a joint statement on Oct. 21, environmental NGOs, including Spanish branches of Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF, said the BarMar is a "project promoted by the gas sector" despite the complexity of building an undersea pipeline.

They also claimed that the proposed infrastructure "does not respond to the needs of citizens."

Responding to the claim, Fraser said: "Citizens need secure supplies of energy which now means energy that does not involve Russia."

MidCat vs BarMar

From a technical standpoint, the difference between MidCat and Barmar projects will likely be minor in reality, Fraser said, adding that avoiding land use is a "real plus" for BarMar.

"Any gas pipeline infrastructure that is built in Europe today will need to be hydrogen-ready able to ship hydrogen as well as natural gas, and that would have applied to MidCat as well," the expert said. "And avoiding the land use issues that were of great concern to French residents is a real plus for BarMar."

"Offshore is proving much easier to build in Europe, whether it is pipelines, electricity transmission lines, or wind generation," he added.

The MidCat, an overland pipeline of about 200 kilometers (124 miles) planned to run from Hostalric in Catalonia to La Perthus and Barbaira in the south of France, has been considered since the early 2000s. Since construction started in 2013, 86 kilometers (53 miles) have already been created between the Catalan cities of Martorell and Hostalric.

However, in 2019, the Spanish and French energy regulators rejected the project to build a gas pipeline across the Pyrenees on grounds of lack of necessity and high cost.

The project also failed to be part of the European Commission's list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI).

Fraser explained why the MidCat has been given the red light by the Commission as the project's "security benefits were seen as unimportant as long as Russian gas was available."

"With no Russian gas, the security benefits of BarMar, as well as the hydrogen potential, should make a compelling case for PCI," he said.

Along with the BarMar pipeline, Spain, France and Portugal's deal calls for accelerating the construction of a power link connecting Spain and France in the Gulf of Biscay and adding new gas interconnection capacity between Spain and Portugal.

Since Russia's war on Ukraine began, European countries have been frantically searching for alternatives to Russian gas imports. Now that the 27-nation bloc has set a goal to completely phase out Russian gas by 2027, more gas is anticipated to flow from the west to the east.

Significant progress has also been made in the area of green hydrogen. In response to the Ukraine War, the European Commission doubled the target for green hydrogen production in the EU by 2030 to 10 million tons.

The leaders of France, Spain and Portugal - Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sanchez and Antonio Costa - met to discuss the BarMar pipeline project on Friday.

Source: Anadolu Agency