Portugal: EU eyes Iberia-Italy pipeline to get gas to Europe

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — European authorities are considering a liquefied natural gas pipeline from Spain to Italy as a way of getting around France’s opposition to a gas link-up across the Pyrenees between the Iberian peninsula and central Europe, Portugal’s prime minister said Friday.

Portugal and Spain could send a lot of the liquefied natural gas, or LNG, they receive from around the world to other European Union countries, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said. He gave no further details, but such an undersea pipeline would likely take years to complete.

EU countries have struggled to find common ground on how to wean the bloc off its reliance on Russian natural gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin has weaponized gas exports to pressure the bloc into reducing its sanctions over the war in Ukraine. Putin has already cut off gas exports to more than a dozen EU nations and reduced exports to key industrial powerhouses like Germany. Many European officials fear he could cut off gas exports to most of Europe over the winter, a time of key demand.

The two Iberian countries receive LNG via pipeline from Algeria and Morocco, as well as by ship from countries such as the United States and Nigeria. But there are currently scant energy connections between Spain and Portugal and rest of Europe.

“The Iberian peninsula has capacity to replace a large part of the liquefied natural gas that central Europe today imports from Russia,” Costa told reporters.

With six LNG plants in Spain — including Europe’s largest, in Barcelona — and one in Portugal, the Iberian neighbors account for one-third of Europe’s LNG processing capacity. The port-based terminals turn boatloads of supercooled LNG back into gas that then flows into homes and businesses.

Costa said the Iberian plants could also send more LNG by ship to other European ports while a pipeline is being built.

Costa said the French government is still against a pipeline across the Pyrenees, citing environmental concerns, and added that the European Commission is assessing a link to Italy.

Costa’s comments came after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaking Thursday in Berlin, said, “I have spent a lot of time dealing with a pipeline that we sorely lack, namely the pipeline that should have been built between Portugal, Spain through France to central Europe.”

He added: “It would now make a massive contribution to relieving and easing the supply situation.”

Scholz said he had been in talks with Spain, Portugal, France and the European Commission about the project.

The German chancellor’s comments were welcomed by Portugal and Spain, which could reap the benefits of their investments in LNG.

“Spain is well prepared,” Spanish Industry Minister Reyes Maroto told Antena 3 television on Friday. “We hope that if the German chancellor’s proposal prospers, we will have better gasification and more interconnections in Europe so as not to depend on Russian gas and be self-sufficient energy wise.”

The U.S. government and businesses have long been eyeing Portugal’s deep water Atlantic port of Sines as a springboard for expansion. They have identified Sines as a potential gateway to Europe for gas from fracking in the United States, which has allowed the U.S. to boost LNG exports and offer low prices.

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Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

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