European Interest

A new twist in Nord Stream 2 pipeline row

Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0
German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, 18 May 2018.

The district court in St. Petersburg, Russia, has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Greenpeace against the underwater gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany. The claims made by the environmental NGO are finding strong support from Berlin to Washington.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the successor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as head of the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party, has propose to reduce the quantity of gas flowing through Nord Stream 2. He called for a “soft Nord Stream 2” — to adopt a Brexit allegory — and one that would please no one.

However, as reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) — junior partner in Merkel’s coalition — was quick to disagree, saying the pipeline was a commercial project that would continue even if German firms pulled out. Furthermore, the project would give Berlin leverage in Moscow.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the United States is trying to undermine the pipeline. US President Donald Trump has argued it cramps Europe’s room for manoeuvre in relation to Russia. Trump has sought to sell the idea of US liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports to replace imports from Russia.

According to DW, as the politics heats up, the project’s ecological impact increasingly comes to matter.

For instance, Greenpeace and other environmental groups say construction of Nord Stream 2 has been polluting Germany’s Baltic coast with toxic grease found on beaches and in the sea.

The German Environment Ministry said the sludge may be coming from the pipeline’s construction works. The consortium building the pipeline has since cleaned up the waste.

“Unfortunately, there was a grease spill incident in the Bay of Greifswald in June this year,” the Nord Stream 2 spokesman Jens Müller told DW, adding that up to 140kg of grease, used to lubricate moving pieces on a dredger, were released.

“In close coordination with the authorities, experts working on behalf of Nord Stream 2 collected more than 100kg. We stopped all works, inspected all dredgers again and replaced all fluids with biodegradable ones. We have sent inspectors to the vessels to control all procedures. The measures exceeded existing standards,” Müller noted.

In Berlin, the NABU environmental NGO says the pipeline is a disturbance to five Natura 2000 sites in coastal areas and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in Germany. “Due to dredging activities, plants and animals living at the sea floor are killed,” Anne Böhnke-Henrichs, from NABU’s marine conservation team told DW.

She says the pipeline trench is up to 80m wide, requiring 2.5bn tonnes of sea floor sediments to be dredged, releasing about 250 tons of bioavailable phosphorous that is stored in the sediments. “The phosphorous acts as further fertilizer in an already over-fertilized Baltic environment,” she added.

As a result, algae bloom more quickly, and when they sink to the seafloor and decompose, oxygen is consumed. Too great an oxygen consumption, in turn, results in hypoxic or anoxic conditions, killing plants and animals in a larger area of the Baltic Sea, NABU stressed.

The news from Nord Stream 2, however, is different. Its spokesman Jens Müller highlighted the benefits of the pipeline for combatting climate change.

“Using all the gas transported through Nord Stream 2 for power production instead of coal would save the CO2 emissions of 4 million average cars,” he told DW on the side lines of the COP24 climate change conference, currently being held in Katowice, Poland.

He also said it is interesting to contrast the amount of grease with the amount of unprocessed sewage coming into the Baltic from the rivers and from agricultural runoff.

“If you compare the amount of dredging we do with that of the neighbouring Polish LNG terminal, we moved less than one tenth of the amount of sediment,” he explained.

Explore more