Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) The German government has made it clear that it has no intention of allowing objections by the United States to interfere with its energy planning and provision. Despite threats of US sanctions, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project has received crucial German construction permits and now seems certain to go ahead.

The new undersea pipeline will run from Russia to Germany, near Greifswald, under the Baltic and double the capacity of the original Nord Stream 1 of 55 billion cubic meters, which was completed in October 2012.

The importance of the new pipeline and the need for economical and secure long-term supplies of gas are illustrated by the fact that German chemical giant BASF alone uses as much gas in a year as the entire Kingdom of Denmark.

There is a tradition of resistance by the United States to pipelines bringing gas from Russia to Europe going back to Soviet times. It is the one the few areas where Western governments have so far stood firm and protected their own interests. 

The original pipeline was no exception and there was considerable obstruction by US friendly Baltic states particularly Poland that were concerned at being bypassed. There is also widespread opposition to the project in pro-US circles based on claims that it will make Europe dependent on Russian gas.

In 2010, Nord Stream Communications Director Jens Mueller, speaking of the problems faced by Nord stream one, told the writer, “the project was originally launched in 1997 before anybody had ever heard of Vladimir Putin and the EU has supported the project since 2000. At the time there was no objection from anyone.” He added, “we see ourselves as a sort of litmus test of Russian-Western relations. It would have been easier to build in 2002. That was before the deterioration of relations between the West and Russia which seems to have dictated media reactions.” At that time, the then Polish Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski went so far as to compare the pipeline with the notorious Molotov Ribbentrop Pact that lead to the partition of Poland, the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states and the outbreak of World War II.[i]

Whereas the European Commission supported the building of Nord Stream 1, they have made difficulties over the new project, claiming that the offshore pipeline was subject to EU Third Energy package. This argument has been rejected by the EU’s own lawyers. The change in the Commission’s attitude since 1999 would seem to come from the addition since then of former Eastern European and Soviet states in the European Union, with their traditional fear of Russia dating back to Soviet times, combined with their close relations with the United States.

The United States inspired resistance to all pipelines from Russia to Europe is part of a long-running policy of keeping Europe separated from Russia. But relations with Russia have deteriorated further in recent years since the coup in Kiev in 2014 that aimed to bring Ukraine under Western influence. Apart from the separatist Donbass movement which has led to civil war and the reunification of Crimea with Russia, this initiative has been financially disastrous for Ukraine. The doubling of capacity of Nord Stream and the building of Turkish stream and or South stream in the Black Sea area will enable Russia to carry out its threat to stop sending gas through Ukraine within the next few years. Should this happen it will make Ukraine’s financial position even worse than it is at present, because of the loss of valuable transit fees. It will also make Ukraine a less important country strategically.

The US would also like to sell its LNG gas to Europe but Russian gas is cheaper.

Sebastian Sass, European spokesperson for Nord Stream told Diplomatic Observer that other permits were awaited from other Baltic countries but he did not envisage delays that would put back the planned beginning of construction of the pipeline in 2018. Production and pre-positioning of the 200,000 12 m pipe sections has already begun.

He denied that Nord Stream would increase EU dependence on Russian gas and pointed out that “the only country completely dependent on Russian gas is Russia”.

He added that the production outlooks of major gas producers such as Netherlands and UK, as well as Norway, are falling. At the same time, demand for gas is expected to continue, owing to its lower carbon qualities. This means that the EU will need to import more gas.

Asked about threatened opposition from the Danish government and a possible refusal to allow the pipeline to be laid in their waters, he pointed out that an alternative route was possible avoiding Denmark but that it would be less desirable from an ecological point of view. Bearing in mind that it was the Danish government that originally asked for Nord Stream 1 to pass through Danish waters for ecological reasons, he wondered how the Danish government could logically compel the passage of the pipeline through international waters. “Any objections on their part”, he said, “would be less desirable ecologically”.

Nord Stream 2 will deliver gas to Europe from the vast natural gas field Bovanenkovo in North Russia’s Yamal Peninsula, which holds some 4.9 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves. This field alone holds more than twice as much gas as the total proven reserves of the EU (1.9 trillion). The pipeline can be laid through the Baltic Sea at a rate of up to 3 km per day and should be completed by the end of 2019.

Despite noisy political opposition to the use of Russian energy, EU imports of Russian gas were up 8.1% in 2017 at a record level. Ironically a sudden shortage of gas in the big recent freeze on the US Eastern sea board in December led American energy purchasers to buy a tanker load of LNG gas from Russia.


[i] See article by Robert Harneis 6 May 2010’-stream-putin-s-peace-pipelines-russia-and-germany-join-hands/19069

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