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The Basque Country: A Tradition of Excellence

Tucked away in the north of Spain, the autonomous community of the Basque Country has established a position as one of Spain’s wealthiest and most prosperous regions. The Basques have demonstrated great resilience to the financial crisis, backed up by a number of innovative companies achieving international excellence in engineering.

A Global Reputation

With Basque language and national identity suppressed under Franco between 1939 and 1975, the Basque Country grasped the emergence of democracy in Spain as an opportunity to develop advanced engineering and technology companies, drawing on the region’s long-standing industrial heritage. These companies include Iberdrola, Spain’s largest energy group by market capitalisation and the global leader in wind energy; Gamesa, the fourth largest wind-farm and wind turbine manufacturer globally, now incorporated within Siemens; and SENER, a top ten engineering player worldwide with over 50 years’ experience in the aerospace, infrastructure, energy and marine sectors.

As Iñigo Ansola Kareaga, general manager of the Basque regional government’s energy exploration, production and storage arm, Ente Vasco de la Energia (EVE), explains, “the Basques are known worldwide for their competitive, hardworking and entrepreneurial spirit.” Ramon Menendez de Luarca Bellido, CEO of Basque engineering outfit EIA XXI concurs, positing that “Spain is home to a very well equipped and talented pool of people capable of using complicated engineering tools, especially in the Basque region.”

“The Basques are known worldwide for their competitive, hardworking and entrepreneurial spirit.”

Iñigo Ansola Kareaga, EVE

Tubacex, one of the global ‘big three’ in steel tube production, especially for the oil industry, also calls the Basque Country home, along with competitor Tubos Reunidos. Tubacex CEO Jesus Esmoris proudly proclaims that “implementing our engineering centre, headquarters and business intelligence in the Basque region is a great asset with regards to its industrial heritage. Furthermore, having established our headquarters here allows us to have great professionals and suppliers.”

Engineering Excellence Abroad

SENER is just one example of a Basque engineering firm that has managed to take its cutting-edge technological expertise worldwide. Borja Zarraga, power, oil and gas business unit manager, points to the creation of a virtual pipeline (transporting energy via ships and trucks rather than a physical pipeline) in Bolivia as the company’s flagship project and one that will aid the development of the country more generally. He proclaims that “By providing LNG to remote areas, we close the gap between oil and unavailable renewables.” Furthermore, “Eventually, SENER will provide solutions so that the resources dedicated by the government can be used to export LNG to neighbouring countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Peru.”

With the Spanish market representing only five percent of turnover, Tubacex has also prioritized internationalization, with recent investments in manufacturing capacity in Japan and India to cover the full range of pipe production; from standard to high-end. However, the most eye-catching recent international news concerning Tubacex has come from Iran, where the company was awarded the biggest contract in its history in May 2017 for the local manufacture of 600km of steel pipelines, worth an estimated EUR 556 million over three years. This deal, in partnership with Iran’s National Petroleum Company (NIOC), was not born overnight, as Esmoris explains: “The deal was signed after an official negotiation tender that lasted over one year and involved other competitors.” Esmoris outlines the secrets to the success of the deal thusly, “our technical know-how, local content offering and customer focused solution won us the tender.”

E&P?

Not only does the Basque Country contain a strong industrial heritage and human resources; it is also one of Spain’s most prospective areas in terms of natural resources in a country that depends almost entirely on imported oil and gas. As EVE’s Ansola notes, “The geological proprieties of the Rioja region and the Basque-Cantabrian basin are quite promising. Indeed, the soil is a combination of the right set of sediments and hydrocarbons to allow for profitable oil and gas exploitations.”

However, Ansola laments that “Exploration has been limited by burdensome regulations and there have only been a few discoveries since the 1980 ‘Gabiota’ project.” With Basque regulation preventing the use of unconventional techniques and many opposition parties and the general public opposed to hydrocarbon extraction in the region in any form, this situation does not look likely to change any time soon.

Despite this inability to capitalise on its natural resources, the Basque Country and its innovative and outward-looking companies looks well placed for future growth and success.

Writer: Patrick Burton

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