Gas project puts Spanish World Heritage Site in danger | WWF

Gas project puts Spanish World Heritage Site in danger

Posted on 02 December 2014
Greater flamingos, Coto Doñana National Park, Spain
© Jorge Sierra/WWF-Spain

Brussels/Madrid - Gas exploitation of the Unesco and Natura 2000 site of Coto Doñana, could be authorised by the Andalusian Government in Spain following a claim by Gas Natural-Fenosa of €358m euros for blocking the project. WWF is asking the European Commission to take immediate legal action and protect one of Europe’s most vulnerable natural sites against dangerous fossil fuel exploitation.

Gas Natural-Fenosa is planning to build 20 km of gas-pipelines, 14 new exploration sites and a permanent huge underground storage site that could put Doñana’s ecosystems at risk. WWF has repeatedly warned EU and Spanish authorities that the serious environmental and security risks related to such a massive project have not been correctly evaluated. The risks include potential seismic reactions, similar to those that happened  near Valencia in 2013, where a similar gas storage project known as ‘Castor’ caused hundreds of earthquakes. 
Doñana is an area of outstanding natural beauty thanks the richness of its habitats and species. It is one of the most important wetlands in Europe giving shelter to more than six million migratory birds and highly endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx and the Imperial Eagle. Because of its extreme importance, this area has been declared a Spanish National Park, Europe’s Natura 2000 site, a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention and a UNESCO World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve.
WWF Spain Secretary General Juan Carlos del Olmo said:

“Spain’s most emblematic Natura 2000 site, whose protection was one of WWF’s first achievements over 50 years ago, should not be put at risk for the benefit of one private company. If the European Commission does not act now, and ask the Spanish authorities to do a proper environmental impact assessment of this dangerous project, Doñana could become an industrial facility forever.”
In 2013, WWF filed a complaint against the Spanish government for issuing an Environmental Impact Assessment in favour of the gas project that presented several important irregularities. The assessment did not evaluate the impact on habitats and species protected by EU Birds & Habitats Directives (representing the cornerstone of Europe's nature conservation policy), and was cut into four pieces to avoid evaluating its bigger synergic impacts. As a result, the European Commission opened a legal case against it, that was closed only after the Andalusian regional government committed not to issue the permits before a proper assessment was made by the Spanish government. 
Because of this delay, the gas company is now threatening to claim €358m euros from the Andalusian Government unless the project is authorised. WWF is concerned that due to the huge pressure from Gas Natural, the regional government might give up unless immediate action is taken from Brussels. WWF Spain has also launched an online petition asking the president of the regional government, the socialist Susana Diaz, to defend Doñana against the unacceptable demands of the energy company. 
Tony Long, Director of WWF European Policy Office said:

“Doñana is unique. It is one of the most important wetlands in the world giving shelter to millions of birds and endangered species. It is the jewel in the crown of Europe’s protected areas, and that is why it was designated a World Heritage Site. The European Commission cannot turn its back and watch an area of this natural importance succumb to short- term energy interests.”

“As the UN Climate conference is starting in Lima and the IPCC clearly says that avoiding dangerous climate change will require leaving most remaining fossil fuels in the ground, authorising more gas extraction is a complete nonsense.”
Recently at the IUCN World Park Congress in Sydney, Doñana was named as one of the natural sites of "significant concern". WWF also joined eight other organisations in calling for natural World Heritage Sites, like Doñana, to be no-go zones for oil, gas and mining exploration and extraction.
For further information

Audrey Gueudet
Climate & Energy Media and Communication Officer
WWF European Policy Officer
Mobile: + 32 494 03 20 27
Guillermo Prudencio Vergara
Communication – WWF Spain
Mobile: +34 608 006 976

Notes for the editor on the Doñana case:
Coto Doñana

Considered one of the most valuable wetlands in Europe, Spain’s Coto Doñana, located where the Guadalquivir River reaches the Atlantic Ocean, is a sanctuary for millions of migratory birds and endangered species like the imperial eagle and Iberian lynx. Doñana is a key stopover wetland for millions of migratory birds on the route from northern Europe right down to southern Africa. However, mining, farming, tourism and infrastructure development all pose a serious threat to the area. 

Active involvement of WWF in Doñana began in the 1960s, when the organization became the owner of a significant part of the Coto Doñana and promoted the creation of the National Park, the first of a series that have made of the area one of the most prized reserves in Europe.

For further information:
In Spanish:

The Project

In 2011, a subsidiary of Gas Natural-Fenosa, one of Spain’s main energy companies, presented a huge new project to expand its existing facilities in Doñana Protected Area, one of Spain’s most iconic natural spaces and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The project implied the building of 20 km of gas pipes, 14 new gas exploration wells, as well as a permanent and huge underground gas storage site. This would mean that Doñana becomes an industrial facility forever, as industrial use would prevail over conservation. Habitats and species protected by EU directives would be affected by this project, including the critically endangered Iberian Lynx.

The Political process

In January 2013, the Spanish Environmental Ministry issued a positive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Gas Natural project. To avoid evaluating its bigger synergic impacts, the project was cut into 4 pieces, although they were obviously interconnected and affected the same natural area (fragmentation of projects to avoid a proper impact assessment is forbidden under EU regulations). In addition to that, the EIA did not evaluate the project’s impacts on Natura 2000 sites and on species protected by EU directives, nor the accumulated effects with the previous gas projects in the area.

All this concerns about the EIA, stated by WWF, were shared by Andalusian regional Government (Junta de Andalucia), the authority that had to give Gas Natural the permits after the positive EIA.  The Junta de Andalucía believed that there was no proof that the project would not affect Natura 2000 network.

At the same time, WWF started a complaint against the Spanish government for issuing the EIA. As a result, the European Commission opened a legal case to study whether or not the process violated EU laws. The case was closed in July 2014 when the Junta committed not to issue the permits before a proper assessment of the project’s impacts was made by the Spanish government.

Gas Natural pressures

In November 2014, the company Gas Natural announced that it would claim 358 million euros from the Junta de Andalucia, accusing them of blocking their gas project in Doñana. The Junta has asked the European Commission (EC) for help, to have the legal assurance and the strength to block this dangerous project for Doñana. The EC has not taken any action yet, and as pressure is mounting from Gas Natural, WWF is concerned that the Junta might give up and authorise the project. 

Political figures linked to the Doñana case

Felipe González, former President of Spain, is member of the board and stakeholder of Gas Natural-Fenosa. Just one month before the Spanish Government issued the positive EIA of the gas project in Doñana, Felipe González resigned as president of the advisory board of Doñana Protected Area, a stewardship body composed of public authorities, farmers, scientists and environmental NGOs. WWF published an open letter directed to Felipe Gonzalez, which was signed by more than 10.000 people, asking him to use his position in Gas Natural to stop the gas project in Doñana.

Another political figure directly involved in this issue is the new Commissioner for Climate and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete. Cañete was the Head of the Spanish Environmental Ministry when the controversial EIA was approved.
The ‘Castor’ case, seismic impacts of gas storage

In Summer 2013, a gas storage project known as ‘Castor’ –located near Castellón and Tarragona, in the Mediterranean coast of Spain- started to cause hundreds of small earthquakes –up to 3,6 in the Richter scale- in the area. The situation caused great alarm and protests from local population and authorities. In October 2013, the project was blocked indefinitely by the Spanish Government, after acknowledging that there was a big probability that the earthquakes were directly linked to the gas storage project. The owner of ‘Castor’, Spanish construction company ACS, has received a massive compensation of 1.350 million euros. The case was really controversial because the potential seismic risks of the project were not evaluated by the Spanish Government before giving the permits to ACS. The project was funded under the Europe 2020 Project Bond Initiative

This is the reason why WWF denounced that the gas storage project in Doñana also failed to evaluate these risks. The Environmental Impact Assessment did not include a study of the potential seismic risks of the project, even though it could affect the Doñana aquifer and the local population. The ‘Castor’ project proved the lack of security linked with this kind of gas storage projects.

What the Commission can do

Right now, the Commission could take action re-opening the legal case about the gas projects. The case was closed when the Junta of Andalusia committed not to give the authorisation to Gas Natural. The European Commission should ensure that EU directives are fully respected, especially in a natural area of such international importance as Doñana. The European Commission could request the Spanish authorities to evaluate correctly the impacts of the project on the Natura 2000 network, and its synergic effects. This would give the Junta of Andalusia the strength they need to withstand Gas Natural pressures and reject it.
Greater flamingos, Coto Doñana National Park, Spain
© Jorge Sierra/WWF-Spain Enlarge