Castor: The Catalan Ombudsman blames the Spanish State Administration for malpractices that may have served the interests of the concessionary company and violated citizens' rights


(c) Parlament de Catalunya

Ribó urges his state counterpart to request the suspension of article 4.2, regarding the payment of 1.350,72 million Euros that will be impacting on consumers

He questions whether the compensation awarded to the concessionary company is complying with the competition legislation and that this decree may violate the EU founding Treaty regarding State aid

The estimated total cost, to be paid by consumers, is of 3.500 million Euros, corresponding to the compensation, the maintenance of the platform, its potential dismantlement and the bank interests


The Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, has submitted the report on the project Castor to the Catalan Parliament. This document is the result of one year of research about the legality of the project and about the performance of the Administration regarding the gas storage, specially with the passage of the Royal Decree regulating the platform withdrawal. During the last weeks, the Catalan Ombudsman has also had meetings with the social entities and professional associations involved.

Given the several alleged irregularities of the above mentioned decree, the Catalan Ombudsman has urged the Spanish State Ombudsman, the Catalan Parliament and the Government of Catalonia to file an appeal before the Spanish Constitutional Court. Furthermore, the Catalan Ombudsman has requested the Spanish counterpart to call for suspension of the article 4.2, regarding the costs impacting on consumers (1.350,72 millions). The estimated total cost to be paid by consumers is of 3.500 million Euros, corresponding to the compensation, the maintenance of the platform, its potential dismantlement and the bank interests.

Among the alleged irregularities and malpractices observed, not only in the Decree itself but also in the previous and latter actions of Spanish State Administration concerning this matter, the Catalan Ombudsman highlights the lack of transparency and response of the Spanish Government with regards to the information and public documentation related to the project.

According to the available information, there might have been irregularities in the handling of the project from the perspective of environmental legislation, given the subdivision of the project into smaller ones so that a new environmental evaluation of the project of gas connection to the platform Castor, Tarragona-Castelló could be avoided. This irregularity has been confirmed by the Ruling of 15th April 2013 of Spanish High Court.

Besides the alleged irregularities and negligence in the environmental evaluation procedure and, therefore, in the implementation of the project, from the perspective of the termination of the concession, although the article 14 of the concessionary title sets out as a requirement to compensate the investment that the facilities are operating, when the Decree was passed the storage operations were suspended and so it was confirmed by the Spanish Supreme Court.

The impacts of the Castor storage on citizens, mainly from the municipalities of Alcanar, Sant Carles de la Ràpita and Ulldecona, is out of the question. The Ombudsman confirms that impacts on citizens are wide because the project not only does it impact on the inhabitants of the zone next to the platform, but also impacts on citizens of all Spain, as the cost of compensation will be paid by consumers through gas bills.

From this perspective, the fact that the cost of the termination of the project, being promoted by a public authority but implemented by a private company, is to be paid by consumers suggests that the Spanish Administration has acted in the best interest of the concessionary company.

The Ombudsman also questions the reasons to handle the compensation to the concessionary company by means of a law. In the first place, this decision entails that the compensation, to be paid by consumers, is immediate and, in the second place, implies that this compensation can only be appealed before the Spanish Constitutional Court.

The other option is in the hands of the European Commission (through EU Court of Justice), with the power to rule the review of the compensation if it considers it does not comply with the European legislation about State aid.

Ombudsman recommendations regarding the Castor project

1) That an appeal be filed by the Spanish State Ombudsman before the Constitutional Court and that a suspension of article 4.2 enforcement be requested. In addition, that an appeal be filed by the Government of Catalonia and the Catalan Parliament according to their competences.

2) That the payment of compensation to the affected people be prioritised by the Spanish Government, after technical studies carried out by experts appointed by the Government of Catalonia, in coordination with the Sate Government.

3) That a technical report be issued by an independent body established by the Spanish Government in order to determine if the requirements to ensure that the project was viable were complied with, specially the two requirements set out by the Spanish Supreme Court and the compliance with the environmental legislation. And that the payment of the compensation be subject to the results of this technical report.

4) That the Castor platform be dismantled because there is evidence, confirmed by the report on seismic risk of Ebro Observatory (2005) and corroborated by the earthquakes taken in place in September and October 2013, that the zone where the platform is located is prone to seismic activity.

5) That the Spanish Commission of Market and Competition inform if the compensation set out in the Royal Decree to be awarded to the concessionary company (Escal UGS, SL) violates the competition legislation, pursuant to the State Law 15/2007, on defence of competition.

6) That the European Ombudsman request the European Commission to analyse the Royal Decree 13/2014, passed by the Spanish Government, in order to determine if it constitutes a State aid forbidden by the EU founding Treaty.

7) That possible environmental damages caused by the activity of the platform be assessed by the concerned department of the Government of Catalonia and, if so, that a responsibility case be instructed to determine if there has been an infringement.

8) That the accountability for the malpractices of the Administration be ensured. These malpractices are mainly: lack of transparency and response by Spanish State Administration regarding access to information, malpractices in the handling and implementation of the project, inaccurate management by the responsible political leaders and managers of the concessionary company (Escal UGS, SL).

9) That this report be sent to all regional Spanish ombudsmen.

10) That social entities in defence of consumer's rights be informed about the contents of this report.