Algeria threatens to stop gas supplies

WIf just a single gas molecule from Algeria gets to Morocco, then everything will be over. The Algerian threats towards Madrid are becoming more and more massive. First it was an increase in gas prices, now even a complete cessation of supplies. Until the end of 2021, the North African country was Spain’s most important gas supplier with around 40 percent, until it was overtaken by the USA.

The Western Sahara conflict escalated diplomatically just as the war in Ukraine broke out. Spain’s reconciliation with Morocco led to the most serious crisis with Algeria, the protector of the Polisario Liberation Front fighting for the independence of the former Spanish colony. By praising Rabat’s autonomy plan, the Spanish government indirectly recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

After a corresponding “cry for help” from Morocco, the Spanish government announced that it would reopen the Maghreb-Europe pipeline from the Spanish side. The Algerian leadership shut it down last October to prevent its regional rival Morocco from benefiting from the transit fees that Algeria had until then paid in the form of natural gas.

Distrust in Algiers is great

To alleviate the natural gas shortage, Spain is in the process of reopening the section of the pipeline under the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco: this will enable Morocco to buy liquefied LNG gas on international markets, sending it to a regasification plant to unload in mainland Spain and bring it to its territory via the pipeline, the Spanish government said.

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But there is great distrust in Algiers: the Algerian government announced that any forwarding of Algerian gas would be a breach of contractual obligations, which would lead to the termination of the contract. This is difficult to verify, although the Spanish government has promised to ensure that under no circumstances will it be Algerian gas, most of which is pumped directly from Algeria to Spain’s Almería via the Medgaz pipeline. According to experts, should Algeria stop these exports as well, the gas price for Spain would double, which would be fatal in view of the economic crisis, which is being exacerbated by the war. The natural gas would then have to be brought to the LNG terminals by much more expensive tankers and regasified there.

The political price of the Spanish rapprochement with Morocco is already high. The relationship with Algiers is so strained that, according to information from the online portal “El Confidencial”, the Spanish government asked the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to mediate – so far without success. “We had very good relations with the Spanish state, but the (Spanish) head of government ruined everything,” said Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune a week ago. He called on Pedro Sánchez to return to a neutral position in the dispute over Western Sahara, but at the same time stressed that his country was a reliable supplier.

Algeria cooperates with Russia and China

Only two weeks ago, however, Algeria turned to Italy, which will in future replace Spain as the most important customer. Both sides agreed that Italy will increase its gas imports from the North African country by 40 percent by 2023. This is relatively easy to do, since the capacity of the Transmed pipeline, which connects the two countries via Tunisia, is currently only being used to two-thirds. Algeria cooperates closely with Russia and China, which is on Moscow’s side in the Ukraine war, in developing its raw materials. The state-owned energy company Sonatrach is working with Russia’s Gazprom to increase production.

Algeria has the second largest natural gas reserves in Africa after Nigeria. The third largest deposit of shale gas in the world is believed to be in the south. However, due to popular resistance, the government has not yet pushed fracking in the desert.

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