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Day 74: Hassi-R'Mel

Michael Palin - SaharaOnce tea and polite introductions are over, we're driven over to the heart of the operation, the CNDG, the National Centre For Despatching Gas. This proves to be a huge and rambling complex of multicoloured pipes (yellow for natural gas, brown for liquid nitrogen, green for composite), looking more like some computer-generated model than the real thing. Gas from far below the surface comes up in molten form, is treated and eventually chilled to minus 170 degrees, at which temperature it is sent through one of two pipelines, either west to Spain, under the Strait of Gibraltar, or east to Italy, under the Mediterranean. When it reaches the other end of the pipeline it is warmed and expands to 600 times its volume. Every cubic foot that leaves Hassi-R'Mel turns into 600 cubic feet at the receiving terminal.

It's all a bit much for me to take in, but I do like the thought that the yellow paint on the pipe at the back of my cooker matches the yellow paint of the 4-foot thick pipes rearing above my head in the middle of the Algerian desert.

One thing I will remember from this froth of facts and figures is that by 2005, at the cost of $5 billion, there will be another route across the Sahara. It will be laid at a minimum of 6 feet below ground and will connect Europe to the gas fields of northern Nigeria. This will mean a lot more yellow pipes at Hassi-R'Mel and add a new name to the long and not always illustrious list of cross-Saharan trade. Gold, salt, slaves and, now, natural gas.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 74
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Hassi-R'Mel
  • Book page no: 205

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