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ENERGY

Protected Doñana area to be analyzed for gas extraction viability

Environment Ministry grants license to test zone close to national park

The subsoil in the Doñana area of Andalusia is set to undergo meticulous analysis to determine its real capacity — as well as the profitability — for gas extraction and storage.

The project is being sponsored by Petroleum Oil Gas-España, a branch of energy company Gas Natural-Fenosa, which has already been granted a prospection license from the Environment Ministry to drill two kilometers down near a natural preserve.

On January 15, the company obtained a Declaration of Environmental Impact, a necessary document to proceed with a project that began in 2006 and envisions the construction of a gas pipe stretching over 18 kilometers and of a wider diameter than the existing one, which would be phased out.

The company says that some stretches of the new pipe would run parallel to the boundaries of the Doñana National Park, home to some of the world’s last existing Iberian lynx populations, without ever penetrating inside.

“The foremost goal of this project is the production of natural gas, and the second goal is to later use the deposits as underground gas storage,” according to the official state gazette.

The company considered the opinions of several agencies in order to assess what protection measures are required for the project. These included the natural area management department of the regional government of Andalusia.

Another advisor

Another major advisory body was Doñana Natural Space Participation Council, whose president until last December was Felipe González, Spain’s Socialist prime minister between 1982 and 1996. González is also a member of the board of Gas Natural.

According to council sources, González was not present at any of the meetings involving the gas pipe project.

The Andalusian government last year granted Petroleum Oil Gas-España permission to investigate the possibility of underground storage of natural gas in a 89,596-hectare tract of land straddling the provinces of Cádiz and Seville. The company is planning to invest 2.2 million euros to build the necessary infrastructure and implement the required environmental measures.

Environmentalists oppose the plans. In November 2011, all the green groups expressed their rejection of the project at the council.

Now that the Environment Ministry has given the green light, the group Ecologists in Action hopes that the European Union will oppose it.