Officials debate safety of Baltic Sea pipelines

  • 2005-12-21
  • From wire reports
TALLINN/ST. PETERSBURG - Estonia and Finland are considering the construction of a natural gas pipeline between the two countries on the floor of the Gulf of Finland, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told reporters after a meeting with his Finnish counterpart, Erkki Tuomioja. "A breakeven study for an Estonian-Finnish gas pipeline is underway," the minister said.

In the meantime, the first rumblings of dissatisfaction over two crisscrossing under-the-sea energy lines were made last week. On Dec. 16, Yevgeni Soroko, head of the maritime administration of the Russian Vyborg and Vysotsk ports, said that Estlink, a power cable linking Estonia and Finland that will soon be built, poses a threat to the projected gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

The Estonia-Finland cable would create a powerful magnetic field at its crossing with the gas pipeline, he explained. Soroko added that the resulting risks could endanger the whole Gulf of Finland. "Can you imagine if a magnetic field were created there, what the consequences would be?" he said.

Indrek Aarna, board member of Nordic Energy Link, the company set up to build the power cable, said last month that the cable would be completed by the end of next year, certainly before the laying of the gas pipeline.

"As a result, the Estlink undersea cable will remain under the projected gas pipeline, which may complicate repair of the undersea cable in case of accidents, as the pipeline may prevent lifting of the cable to the surface," Aarma was quoted as saying.

Helen Sabrak, spokeswoman of the Eesti Energia (Estonian Energy) power utility, the biggest shareholder in Nordic Energy Link, told the Baltic New Service that parties would agree on work procedures in case of cable and pipeline failures or malfunctions.

It is the pipeline owners' obligation to develop a technical solution that would help lift the power cable to the surface.

But in addition to the power cable, the gas pipeline would increase regional cooperation in the energy field and act as a buffer against Russian supply problems to one or the other country. Paet said the pipeline would improve the region's security in the area of energy.

Commenting on a Russian-German gas pipeline, Tuomioja said it could not be ruled out that Finland might join the project. "We are interested in new gas connections and Finland may in the future need more gas than now," he said.

Tuomijoja, unlike Baltic and Polish politicians, said he was not worried about the German-Russia gas pipeline. He emphasized that environmental security would be strictly observed during construction of the North European Gas Pipeline.

Paet, however, noted that the Baltic Sea was recently designated a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area, and conducting environmental studies for the Russian-German pipeline was a matter of high importance.

In his words, Estonia could not be happy with the way the Russian-German pipeline deal was concluded. Exchange of information and cooperation among the countries on the Baltic rim should have been better, he added.

Be that as it may, it would appear that in a few years' time the Baltic Sea-Gulf of Finland will be criss-crossed with new pipelines and cables. The daily Helsingin Sanomat wrote on Dec. 15 that the Russian nuclear power company, Rosenergoatom, was planning an undersea power cable to the Finnish town of Kotka.

The undersea cable would be laid from the Kernovo transformer station beside the Sosnovyi Bor nuclear power plant to Kotka, where a new transformer station would be built. Construction would take two years and most likely be completed by 2009. This cable would also intersect with the projected gas pipeline.