All obstacles cleared for undersea Baltic pipe

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The Nord Stream gas pipeline, which aims to bring Siberian gas directly to Germany, bypassing all "problematic" Russian neighbours, was awarded its final building permit today (12 February). Construction is due to begin in April, the consortium announced.

A Finnish 'water permit' was the final authorisation required before construction can begin of the 1,223-kilometre pipeline, which will stretch under the Baltic Sea.

The project had already received all the permits required from the four other countries whose territorial waters or exclusive economic zones the pipeline will cross: Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. 

"This is the culmination of four years of intensive studies, consultations and dialogue with the authorities, experts, stakeholders and the public in Finland and other countries through the Baltic Sea region," Nord Stream Managing Director Matthias Warnig said in a statement.

The first gas will be transported through the pipeline at the end of 2011, the statement said.

'Clean' project

Warnig thanked the authorities and stakeholders for their contribution to helping find solutions to the many environmental challenges posed by the pipeline to the Baltic Sea ecosystem. "Their support has enabled us to develop this key European energy infrastructure project to world-class safety and environmental standards," Warnig pointed out.

Sebastian Sass, head of Nord Stream's EU representation, recently told EURACTIV that the safety standards of the project were sound, as demonstrated by the green light given by countries like Denmark, which is very sensitive to environmental issues (EURACTIV 22/10/09).

Nord Stream was happy to be able to have produced the largest Baltic Sea environmental study in history, he said. 

According to the official, Sweden and Finland will benefit from the fact that this form of gas transportation is much more secure than others. If the same amount were to be transported in LNG tankers, it would fill 600 tankers a year, he said.

Paradoxically, no permission is needed for LNG tankers, despite the fact that the risks posed by such transport are higher, he explained. 

Germany, Denmark and Russia will also benefit from transit fees, as the pipe runs through their territorial waters. Sweden and Finland will not, as in their cases the pipe runs through their exclusive economic zones. According to international law no transit duties can be imposed there.

Nord Stream is a planned natural gas pipeline travelling 1,223 kilometres between Vyborg, Russia, and Greifswald, Germany, under the Baltic Sea. Nord Stream is designed to transport up to 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year, enough to supply more than 25 million households. 

Nord Steam is a joint project by four major companies: Gazprom, BASF/Wintershall Holding AG, E.ON Ruhrgas AG and N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie. Gazprom leads the consortium with a 51% stake. 

The pan-European nature of the pipeline is underscored by its status as a project under the EU's trans-European networks energy guidelines. This status was confirmed in 2006. The total budget of Nord Steam is 7.4 billion euros, which makes it one of the largest privately-financed infrastructure projects ever attempted. 

On 20 October 2009 Denmark became the first country to grant a construction permit for the pipeline (EURACTIV 22/10/09), followed by Sweden and Finland on 5 November. Russia granted its permission on 18 December, and Germany agreed to allow a section of the pipeline to cross its economic zone on 28 December.

The project is seen as controversial in several countries, including Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states (EURACTIV 11/01/10).

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