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Gas pipeline threatens World Heritage Site in Portugal

A planned pipeline between Portugal and Spain could rip appart the vineyards of the Douro Wine region and the Côa Valley archaeological site. 
Douro Wine Region. Foto Howard Lifshitz/Flickr
Douro Wine Region. Foto Howard Lifshitz/Flickr

REN (the company which operates the main transport infrastructure of electricity and gas in Portugal) wants to build a gas pipeline to connect Spain and Portugal. The projected path of the pipeline affects, among others, the Côa Valley Archaeological Park and Alto Douro Wine Region, both classified as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. 

An environmental impact assessment, published by the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), states that the project plans to build the pipeline “between the train station in Celorico da Beira and the border with Spain, with a projected lenght between 162,5 and 167,5 km”. 

According to the portuguese newspaper Público, the Northern Coordination Comission, in charge of protecting World Heritage Sites in the region, has already met with property owners which will be affected by the project. The portuguese branch of ICOMOS, which is in charge of protecting classified heritage sites in Portugal, was notified of the project only in the past month. 

The pipeline will have 70 centimetres in diameter (27,5 inches), which will imply ripping out vast tracts of vineyards. The APA report alerts to the “special technical characteristics required to realize the crossing”. 

The projected cost of the pipline, set at 137 million euros by REN, has been rejected by ERSE (the Energy Services Regulatory Authority responsible for regulating the electricity and natural gas sectors) due to a possible “tariff impact” on the consumer’s bill. 

In the APA’s report, REN’s justification for building the pipeline originating in Spain is based on the need to “diversify the origins of provisioning”, and reducing “the vulnerability to import failures”. A reasoning that ERSE doesn’t back, advising “caution” given the low projected demand for gas in the long term and the lack of european funds necessary to co-finance the project.  

There are two possible routes for the new pipeline, both with significant environmental impact. One would cut through Vilariça Valley, ripping apart vineyards all along the agricultural fields. The second route would avoid the fields, instead cutting through a fluvial beach in the Sabor river. 

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