Environmental researchers of the “BalticWay” project won major recognition recently for raising the public awareness of the potential hazards to the Baltic Sea from the Nord Stream pipeline. The German-Russian pipeline initiative was ceremonially opened nearly the same time.
Led by Estonian scientist Tarmo Soomere with the participation of experts from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the “Baltic Way” project won a major international award for informing the public and governments of the ecological consequences of pipeline and other environmental accidents to the Baltic Sea. Experts predict that in the immediate area of the pipeline, flora and fauna will be destroyed, natural fish feeding and spawning areas will disappear. Nature and the fishing industry will suffer immense damage.
The 1,222-km long Nord Stream natural gas pipeline, also co-owned by the Dutch and French, recently ceremoniously opened by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, is a supply line delivering 27.5 billion cubic metres of Siberian gas to the European Union. Eventually it’ll supply 10% of the EU’s annual gas requirements. This will double once the second parallel line is completed. At 1,222 kilometres it’s the world’s longest underwater pipeline supplying fuel for 26 million households.
There is an unavoidable interdependence between Europe and Russia in the energy sector. The pipeline project initiated in the late 1990’s shows how vulnerable Europe is to Russia’s energy supplies. But pipeline supporters insist that Europe has no other option beside Russian gas supplies, and that Russia needs European money. Without selling gas Russia’s whole economy and its social security would collapse they say.
Opponents of the pipeline see the underwater project as Russia’s plan to bypass the traditional transit countries of Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Belarus and Poland. It’s also Moscow’s blatant attempt to apply political influence by threatening gas supplies to them without affecting Western Europe. In short gas supplies can be used as a dangerous political tool. This apprehension is reinforced by a Swedish Defence Research Agency study which identified 55 supply-demand incidents since 1991, most with both political and economic motivations.
Poland’s defence minister Radoslaw Sikorski in 2006 mentioned similarities with the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that determined the fate of many central and eastern European countries at the start of World War II. In this regard many have noted the participation of ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroder, now in the lucrative position as chairman of Nord Stream’s shareholders group, who was a major player as chancellor in the non-transparent deal-making with Russia. This seriously questions the integrity of a leader of Western Europe’s major democracy where personal monetary gain resulted from abuse of privilege.
Military experts warn that the pipeline can cause security policy problems for the countries adjacent to the pipeline route. Since Russia has openly stated that their navy will monitor the pipeline’s ecological safety and operational well-being, this clearly has military implications such as intelligence gathering. Moscow’s denials were inevitable since espionage intentions are never announced publically.
Numerous alternative overland pipeline routes were offered as being environmentally safer and economically more attractive. They were rejected off-hand. The pipeline valves were opened and the champagne flowed but the unsolved economic, political, ethical, environmental and military issues will remain current until a more reliable energy source and route for Europe is found. Even though pipeline supporters insist that there are direct mutual benefits both to Russia and Europe, one simply cannot dismiss the possibility of Russia using its supply as a powerful political weapon when needed.
Nord Stream pipeline inaugurated in spite of serious concerns from experts