Thursday, February 07, 2008

Gas: Baltic pipeline stirs concern

Plans for a gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea linking Russia and Germany were before Parliament’s Petitions Committee on 29 January. Petitions with over 28,000 signatures from Lithuania and Poland are calling for the environmental aspects of the project to be taken into account before construction goes ahead. They say that the shallow Baltic Sea is already polluted with chemicals. They want the pipeline's backers – the Nord Stream Company and the European Commission - to reconsider.

The hearing by the Petitions Committee brought together MEPs, petitioners, representatives of the Nord Stream Consortium and the European Commission. Parliament’s Petitions, Foreign Affairs and Industry Committees hosted it jointly.

Petitioners calling for environmental assessment

At 1200 km the pipeline would be one of the longest in the world. Radvilė Morkunaitė from Lithuania is one of the men who arranged the petition along with his colleagues in an environmental Non Governmental Organisation. He said that the construction of the pipeline could have an impact on the 85 million people who live on the Baltic coast and suggests a land route be considered.

Mr Morkunaitė noted that the construction would run through zones already polluted with chemicals – thereby stirring them up and distributing them. Along with his fellow petitioner Krzysztof Mączkowski of Poland he is calling for the project to be suspended until an independent environmental impact assessment is carried out.

The two petitioners also want MEPs to ensure that the Commission is involved in any environmental assessment. However, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said it was a matter for individual EU members.

Pipeline would help lower CO2 emissions - Piebalgs

European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said the new pipeline would be useful to Europe because of diversification of supply and lower CO2 emissions from gas.

Nord Stream director Dirk von Ameln told the hearing that the project would be in "strict compliance with all rules and regulations" and that an impact assessment is currently being conducted. He said that construction of the pipeline has not yet started.

Many MEPs raised the wider issues of the EU’s energy dependence and relations with Russia. They identified a lack of trust in Moscow as a key factor in concern over the pipeline. They also called for greater openness and public information about the pipeline.

Russia’s Gazprom the main shareholder

If given the go-ahead the Nord Stream pipeline would comprises two parallel pipelines as well as an offshore service station northeast of Gotland. The project is among the priority projects under the Commission's Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E).

The intended route would run through the “exclusive economic zones” of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany as well as through the territorial waters of Russia and Germany. The service station is planned to be in the Swedish economic zone.

The international aspect of the project was brought home by international nature of the Nord Stream consortium. The project is comprised of Russia’s Gazprom (with 51%), German companies BASF and E.ON and Dutch Gasunie.

What happens next?

MEPs on the Petitions Committee will now prepare a report which will be discussed by the whole Parliament in the summer. Polish UEN Member Marcin Libicki will to draft the report.

Baltic basics

The Baltic Sea has an average depth of around 50 metres and an almost lake-like quality. It takes almost 30 years for the water to change. Nuclear submarines and toxic waste are believed to be among the debris on the Baltic’s seabed.

Source: European Parliament News