Spain: Barcelona-Marseille Pipeline Could Take 4-5 Years to Build

(Reuters) — The planned underwater pipeline connecting the ports of Barcelona and Marseille is unlikely to help ease Europe's energy crisis in the short term, with Spain saying on Friday it could take at least four to five years to become fully operational.

The joint project between Spain, Portugal and France, agreed on Thursday and dubbed BarMar, replaces the cross-Pyrenees MidCat pipeline that Spain had said could be ready by 2023 but was vetoed by France. BarMar will mainly be used to pump green hydrogen and other renewable gases into the European grid.

All three countries said the pipeline should also temporarily allow for the transport of some natural gas to help alleviate Europe's supply problems stemming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, such relief is still a few years away.

"This is a project that needs to be extremely safe... Our estimate is that we would need about four to five years," Spain's Energy Minister Teresa Ribera told reporters on Friday.

She added that the connections between Spain and France, as well as between the entry point in Marseille and the hydrogen pipeline network in central Europe, are yet to be completed.

A December deadline has been set for the companies tasked with building the pipeline to present a more detailed plan outlining its projected cost and duration, Ribera said.

She was confident in the ability of Spanish gas grid operator Enagas to deliver, she added, but the involvement of its French and Portuguese counterparts was also needed.

"The fact that there has been some talk of 'no earlier than 2030' means that there are still divergences on this issue," Ribera said, referring to French media reports on Friday.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was similarly light on details of the new plan.

"What is important now is to let technicians work, find the funds, set ourselves tasks, timelines and dates and of course determine how to share the costs of this important investment," he said.

Fernando Garcia, a London-based utilities analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said the BarMar route would "clearly" not fix Europe's short-term supply woes.

"Europe is likely to have gas supply problems until at least 2024 inclusive," he said, adding: "Green hydrogen may be cheaper to produce on the Iberian Peninsula than in Northern Europe, but prices, costs and infrastructure are still very much in their infancy."

The BarMar pipeline would also substitute an underwater gas link between Spain and Italy that was once considered, Ribera told Spanish TV station Antena 3 earlier on Friday.

Instead, Spain was now weighing a new maritime shipping link between Barcelona and the Italian port of Livorno to transport liquefied natural gas between the two countries, she said.

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