Green activists urge EU to act on Nord Stream gas pipe

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Estonian environmental groups have asked the European Commission to take action against EU countries that have granted permission to construct the Nord Stream pipeline, accusing them of failing to comply with EU environmental laws.

The Estonian Green Movement and the Estonian Fund for Nature sent an official complaint to the Commission on 7 January, arguing that the governments of Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden have violated EU directives on environmental impact assessment (EIA) and conservation of wild birds and habitats.

The NGOs claim that many parts of national environmental impact assessments misuse data in the approval process. “In certain cases, even basic knowledge and methodology of physics, statistics, mathematics, chemistry and biology (specifically ecotoxicology) is ignored, and the suggestions of low impact or low risks do not rest on solid factual ground,” the NGOs said, drawing on assessments of independent experts like the Estonian Academy of Sciences.

The Baltic Sea pipeline, portrayed as key to Europe’s security of supply strategy, would deliver natural gas straight from Russia to Germany.

The Russian-led project secured the five national permits required for the pipe’s construction, including one from Russia, in late 2009. Construction is due to start in April (EURACTIV 14/05/09).

The Commission does not have the power to stop the project, but the NGOs hope it will ask member states to implement the EU directives appropriately.

“We can’t stop the pipeline – that’s obvious – but we might avoid similar negative impacts in future major infrastructure projects,” Peep Mardiste, policy advisor at the Estonian Green Movement, told EURACTIV. As projects of this magnitude are relatively rare, Mardiste hopes that the environmental impact of future ventures, be they large bridges, tunnels or major highways, will be assessed more strictly. 

Assessing the overall impact of the pipeline on the Baltic Sea’s fragile ecosystem is not easy, as each country has looked at the part of the pipeline that will run through their sea territory. Dubbed the ‘sausage approach’ by environmentalists, cutting a major project into pieces like this overlooks the overall cumulative impact, Mardiste complains.

The Nord Stream team itself commissioned the ‘Espoo Report’, which was meant to account for potential overall impacts along the pipeline. But conservation group WWF criticised this as “insufficient”, pointing to issues such as a lack of data and underestimations of the impact on protected areas.

The EU last year approved the Baltic Sea Strategy, which seeks to clean up polluted waters and interconnect the energy networks of the surrounding states (EURACTIV 11/06/09). Nord Stream, however, is not part of the strategy.

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