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№ 6 (June 2009)

Environmentalists Discuss Issues of Nord Stream Construction and Operation

It may never occur to someone pondering where his obsolete washing machine found its final resting place, to look for the appliance on the bottom of the sea. But such household goods have indeed turned up among the hundreds of objects scooped off the bottom of the Baltic Sea as environmental experts for Nord Stream continue to sweep the pipeline’s route for live munitions.

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   The Nord Stream consortium, in which Gazprom holds a 51 percent stake, German companies Wintershall Holding AG and E.ON Ruhrgas AG hold 20 percent each, and Dutch Gasunie owns the remaining 9 percent, has been carrying out large-scale and careful surveys of about 40,000 kilometers of the Baltic Sea bottom for four years. Remotely operated vehicles (ROV), equipped with gradometers and videocameras, are capable of detecting minute objects the size of a mobile phone.

   Taking such care makes sense because the Baltic Sea has seen so many military exercises both in and out of wartime that the chance of hitting a live bomb while laying pipe is very real. Environmental experts have warned that laying pipe to carry natural gas along the bottom might be more complicated than the projects over the last 30 or more years that have left the North Sea criss-crossed by more than 6,000 kilometers of undersea pipelines. Indeed, 45 percent of total natural gas imports to the European Union are delivered via subsea pipelines.

   In March 2009, the Nord Stream consortium submitted its transboundary environmental report, the Espoo Convention, in nine regional languages and in English so that all countries bordering the Baltic Sea could have a free and open public discussion.

   Participants in the debate were grouped into two tiers: “primary countries” including Russia, Germany, Finland, Sweden and Denmark; and “concerned parties” including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. Igor Maydanov, who heads the Russian Natural Resources Ministry’s international department, says the period of study and debate outlined in the Espoo Convention ends this June.  

   The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources held hearings in Vyborg in April and round tables in May to weigh all opinions on the project’s effect on the environment. Participants in the round table, namely representatives of Russia’s safety standards enforcement body, Rostekhnadzor, and similar authorities, noted that the reports submitted were of a high quality and were based on in-depth research and consultations.  

    Since April 2006, Nord Stream representatives have participated in 15 meetings within the Espoo framework which brought together countries in the Baltic region. There have also been 20 public hearings, numerous public discussions and public seminars. As a result, the consortium has carried out additional surveys to update the pipeline route. In particular, a decision was made in favor of the “S-route” to the south from the Danish island of Bornholm.

   The consortium plans to obtain national construction licenses for the gas pipeline in five countries by the end of 2009 so that construction can start on time in April 2010.
“The Nord Stream Consortium has spent more than 100 million euros for environmental surveys and budgeting to ensure safety and environmental friendliness of both the technical design and the gas pipeline route,” says Dirk von Ameln, Permitting Director of Nord Stream.
We also keep up an intensive dialogue with the concerned state bodies of the Baltic region to learn and consider all issues that require attention. The final stage of public consultations is the next milestone of the Nord Stream project implementation. This is more proof that we move forward in step with the schedule, and gas supplies from Russia to Europe via the new pipeline will begin in 2011.”

   The design of the gas pipeline route across the Baltic Sea avoids WWII ammunition burial sites. According to data quoted by Niel Strobek, director of Rambol, the Norwegian consultancy that is coordinating preparation of a transboundary environmental report for the Nord Stream project, 20 objects identified as military ordinance have been found on the seabed in the Russian zone, 30 in the Finnish zone, one in the Swedish zone, and three in the Danish zone.

   All of these finds are conventional munitions with the exceeption of those in the Danish zone where chemical weapons were discovered. Not to worry though. Alexander Korshenko, who heads the Zubov Marine Environmental Pollution Monitoring Laboratory at the National Oceanographic Institute says similar discoveries on the Barents Sea floor  lost their potency rather quickly. Cold War era hazards were inert already by 1994. “The bulk of these substances are in a form that are insoluble  in water. They lie in a plasticine-like mass on the ocean floor, contaminating only smaller areas,” said Korshenko. “In the eastern part of the Barents Sea, no concentrated chemical weapons dumps remain,” he says.

   As for commercial fishing, that too appears not to be a problem, according to Strobeck. The pipeline will have no long-term impact on fisheries, as fish will be able to return to their habitats after pipeline construction is completed.  

   The Nord Stream project will comply with the Det Norske Veritas F111 standard which governs the interaction between trawling equipment used in commercial fishing and undersea gas pipelines.
“It is standard procedure for Western fishermen detour around such pipelines,” Strobeck said. But, Alexander Sutyagin, director of the NGO that calls itself “Monitoring BTS” does think that Russian fishermen will find Nord Stream to be a bit of a nuisance at first. This is because Finland in 2008 proposed relocating the pipeline route from north of Gogland Island to the south of the island.
According to Sutyagin, the new route connects with an area of the Gulf of Finland where, as he put it: “Russian fishermen catch 1,500-2,000 tons of Baltic herring and sprat annually." This activity involves about 1,000 trawl castings a year,” he added. And Russian legislation has made no allowances to compensate these fishermen.

   Sutyagin also doesn’t like the Finnish plan because the southern route would be too close to the proposed Ingermanland Reserve, a 17,900-hectare area that Russia wants to create under the international HELCOM program that would grant 10 percent of the Baltic Sea area specially-protected status.

   And if that isn’t enough, he adds that the Dutch buried “about 1,000 acoustic ground mines” in the area and there are more sunken ships than found along the northern route.
Advantages of a subsea pipeline are obvious in comparison with an onshore structure: the route is shorter, which also means that fewer compressor stations are required. It also carries more gas at a stable pressure which presents less of a threat to humans and the environment. Experts believe that over a 25 year period, the cost of operating a subsea gas pipeline will be 15 percent lower than the cost of operating an onshore system.

   In theory, Nord Stream will have delivered 55 bcm of gas by 2025, covering a quarter of the import gas shortage forecast for the period (see diagram). According to estimates of the European Commission’s General Directorate for Energy and Transport, Europe will be importing 81 percent of its natural gas by 2025 as compared to 58 percent in 2005. Despite the fact that the EU places serious emphasis on renewable energy sources, their share of electricity drawn from renewable sources will not increase much by by 2025; it’s expected to be no more than 11 percent compared to 7 percent in 2005. The role that gas will play in power generation should remain roughly the same (26 percent versus 25 percent).

   Presently, European companies have commisioned large volumes of gas to be delivered via Nord Stream: 9 bcm annualy to Wingas of Germany, 6 bcm a year from Gazprom Marketing &Trading, 4 bcm a year to E.ON Ruhrgas of Germany, 2.5 bcm a year to Gaz De France, and 1 bcm a year to Dong Energy of Denmark.

   Speaking of the environment, one should keep in mind that gas deliveries via pipeline are more environmentally friendly, for example, than LNG delivery by tanker. Tankers are powered by systems that emit greenhouse gases, thus making pipelines more environmentally friendly in the long term.

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