BERLIN 's the controversial Russo-German Nord Stream gas pipeline has changed its proposed route, the company in charge of the project reports.
While the change does not directly affect the Baltic States, it could signal future developments giving Estonia a major part to play in the project.
"Nord Stream has decided to re-route the pipeline to run north 's rather than south 's of the Danish island of Bornholm," said a company statement. The decision will add an extra 8 kilometres to the pipeline's total length and follows further research into environmental and legal issues.
The new route will stay further away from known WWII munitions dump sites south of Bornholm, and the company believes it will "minimise any environmental impact and avoid the possibility of delay due to legal uncertainties with regard to the unsettled sea border line south of Bornholm." Poland and Denmark have long been in dispute regarding the exact delineation of the border in the area and the northward shift takes the route clearly through Danish waters.
The re-routing is only one example of several question marks still hanging over the project and rises the estimated costs of completion by 1 billion euros to an estimated 12 billion euros, including both offshore and onshore infrastructure.
When completed, the pipeline will provide a direct link from Russia into Western Europe, bypassing the traditional transit states of Ukraine, Poland and Belarus. Faced with situations like Belarus' recent non-payment of bills for the supply of gas, Russia would be able to reduce or cut off supplies without having a knock-on effect in the lucrative Western European market.
The Baltic States would also be comprehensively cut out of the delivery route, though there remains a possibility that the route may have to pass through Estonian waters 's a situation Gazprom would likely wish to avoid given the abysmal state of relations between Tallinn and Moscow at present.
"There are two other routes under discussion which involve Finland and Estonia," Sten Jerdenius of the Swedish Environment Ministry is reported as saying in the International Herald Tribune.
Finland's environmental protection agency wants the route moved south, further away from the Finnish coastline, but that would mean entering Estonian territorial waters.
"The reason is that the proposed route moves over a lot of rocks," said Jerdenius.
The sea bed is much smoother on the Estonian side, which would reduce costs and logistics problems considerably, but Gazprom may be willing to spend the extra cash to avoid having to deal directly with Estonia.