OAO Gazprom, the world’s largest natural-gas producer, won its last permit to build a $10-billion pipeline to Germany, its first link to western Europe that avoids transit countries blamed for previous supply disruptions. A Finnish regional agency today approved Nord Stream AG’s construction of the pipeline under the Baltic Sea, the final regulatory hurdle for the venture with BASF AG’s Wintershall AG unit, E.ON Ruhrgas AG and Nederlandse Gasunie NV. Zug, Switzerland-based Nord Stream AG earlier secured other permits from Finland, Russia, Germany, Sweden and Denmark.
Baltic Sea countries voiced concern over the pipeline’s environmental impact while Poland, which transfers about a fifth of Russia’s gas to Europe, has compared it to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Europe before World War II. The 7.4 billion-euro ($10 billion) link would bypass Ukraine, reducing the risk of cutoffs that have affected European supplies. “In general, approvals and discussions were objective although excessively politicized,” Alexei Knizhnikov, an oil and gas program coordinator at WWF Russia, said in an e-mail. “The process that has just been completed doesn’t remove all potential threats and issues at the implementation stage.”
Baltic Sea littoral countries have said the 1,220- kilometer (758-mile) pipeline may cause environmental damage. Nord Stream has changed the proposed path to allay these concerns, moving the route north of the Danish island of Bornholm, and further from nature reserves near the Swedish island of Gotland.
“We still have some doubts” over the project’s impact on the environment, Estonia’s Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said Feb. 10. “The concerns of Estonian scientists have not been adequately answered.” More than 150,000 mines were deployed and disposed of in the Baltic Sea during and after the two World Wars, according to Nord Stream. The company plans to bypass the munitions in some locations or remove them in others. “It’s the biggest man-made construct in the Baltic Sea,” said Tapani Veistola, officer at the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. “The main problems are the nutrients and heavy metals spread during construction and that there is no plan for dealing with the pipeline after it’s no longer in use.”
Nord Stream will build two parallel pipelines on the Baltic seabed from the Russian city of Vyborg near the Finnish border to Greifswald on the Baltic coast in Germany. The conduit’s first line is due to start operating in 2011, delivering 27.5 billion cubic meters a year, or about a third of Germany’s consumption. The second pipe is to double capacity in 2012.