By Joan Faus
BARCELONA (Reuters) - The head of the regional government of Catalonia is confident a pipeline to ship gas and potentially green hydrogen from the northeastern Spanish region to France will be built this decade as Europe seeks to cut its energy reliance on Russia.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has boosted political support in Spain for the Midi-Catalonia (Midcat) pipeline project, which was rejected in 2019 by French and Spanish regulators arguing it did not respond to market needs back then, despite being backed by the European Union.
French pipeline operator Terega, owned by Italy's Snam, and Spain's Enagas had submitted the Midcat project in 2018.
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said it's the right time to promote energy interconnections between Spain, which has the largest fleet of liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals, and the rest of Europe to replace Russian gas with gas shipped from other countries overseas.
Sanchez suggested the Midcat could be financed with EU funds, though France has stayed largely quiet in recent weeks on whether it would support the project.
Catalonia's leader Pere Aragones told Reuters on Wednesday he believes the region can be a key energy hub as Barcelona's port hosts the largest terminal in continental Europe to unload LNG and convert it back into gas.
There are only two gas pipelines to France and the Midcat would more than double the amount of gas pumped across the Pyrenean mountains, though building it would take five or six years, according to the Spanish government.
"The Midcat is good for Europe. Catalonia has its gas supply guaranteed with Barcelona's port, but we want Europe to also have its supply totally guaranteed," Aragones said in an interview, adding Catalonia would be an "essential and trustworthy" energy partner.
He said the pipeline's visual impact would be minimal, so the project could overcome opposition from some politicians and environmental groups.
The Midcat would be connected to another pipeline from Algeria. It would run from the town of Hostalric, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the French border, and continue into France.
Enagas said last month it was evaluating options to strengthen Spain's interconnections, while Snam said the Midcat "should be built."
Snam also said another project for an undersea pipeline linking Spain and Italy was at a pre-feasibility stage.
Asked about that pipeline, Aragones said he needed further information but that he generally backed improving connections to strengthen energy security.
(Reporting by Joan Faus in Barcelona; Additional reporting by Isla Binnie in Madrid and Benjamin Mallet in Paris; Editing by Inti Landauro and Mark Potter)