The German-Russian gas pipeline saga continues with a new disputed region causing a rethink over its route. The Nord Stream consortium is again forced into finding an alternative direction for its maligned project.
When it is finally completed, the planned Russian-German natural gas pipeline may have more twists and turns than a bowl of spaghetti. A spokesman for the Nord Stream consortium said Wednesday that the disputed pipeline would again have to change its route after it was revealed a section had been earmarked for a stretch of water that both Poland and Denmark claim as an exclusive economic zone.
In April this year, Nord Stream -- owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom and German firms E.ON and BASF -- had its plans for running a stretch of the pipeline through Estonian waters thrown into doubt over fears that it could disturb unexploded munitions and chemical dumps from World War II.
Such dumps have been located in Estonian waters, but the maps pinpointing them are very old and intensive research would have to be carried out to avoid the risk of an environmental disaster, said Allan Gromov of the Estonian environment ministry at the time.
This latest obstacle to the 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) pipeline may prove to be more concrete in its disruption. Both Denmark and Poland claim the ownership of the area and Nord Stream is reluctant to get involved with any dispute.
Pipeline consortium resorts to Plan B...or C
Now accustomed to the need to redirect the pipeline when opposition arises, Nord Stream said that it already has an alternative route that it proposes to take to avoid the disputed territory.
The consortium would attempt to squeeze the pipeline between the Danish island of Bornholm and Sweden's southeastern coast; although Nord Stream stated that no final decision had been made.
The pipeline has been the subject of bitter dispute in the Baltic region ever since it was first proposed in 2005.
Several coastal nations have expressed concern over the pipeline which is to deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany, saying it will damage the Baltic Sea's delicate ecosystem.
The Finnish government recently asked that the pipeline be routed outside Finnish waters in order to protect the environment while Sweden in particular has complained that the pipeline could disrupt the Baltic Sea’s sensitive flora and fauna.
Study hopes to alleviate environmental fears
In accordance with the European Union rules, Nord Stream is required to furnish an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to those countries whose territorial waters would be affected. The consortium is expected to do so later this year.
"Nord Stream has decided to launch additional studies to investigate areas where the route of the pipeline through the Baltic Sea can be further optimized in a reasonable way to minimize environmental impacts," the consortium said in a statement earlier this year.
The pipeline has also created political opposition.
If completed, it would create separate routes for Russia to supply gas to eastern and western Europe. As a result, the EU's eastern European member states have complained that it would allow Russia to cut off their gas supplies -- as it did to Ukraine in January 2006 -- without affecting supplies to its richer Western clients.
In-between nations concerned at duopoly
The Ukrainian gas crisis heightened fears that Moscow would be willing to use its energy resources to exert political pressure in any disputes with its former satellites.
The fact that the project was negotiated by Russia and Germany without consulting the countries between them has also created great ill-will in former Soviet satellites such as Poland and the Baltics.
The recent heightening of political tensions between Russia and Estonia has also left many Estonian politicians skeptical of Russia's goodwill.
If completed by 2010 as planned, the 1,200-kilometer pipeline would pump 27.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Vyborg, Russia to Greifswald in northern Germany. In a second phase, a parallel pipeline would double that transport capacity, and Nord Stream estimates that will meet about 25 percent of the additional gas needs of the European Union.
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