Russian pipeline looks at Estonian detour

  • 2007-08-27
  • By Mike Collier

ESTONIA ON THE HORIZON? Nord Stream surveyors are on the look-out for an alternative route (Photo: Nord Stream)

TALLINN - The multi-billion-dollar Nord Stream pipeline could include an Estonian section, even though the country was not included in the original route.

The Finnish Environment Ministry has expressed concern about the original plan and asked Nord Stream to move it further south -'swhich means entering the Estonian exclusive economic zone and making the Baltic State a key player in the fate of the 12 billion euro project.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry confirmed to The Baltic Times that an application has been received from Nord Stream to conduct a survey of the sea bed.

Spokesperson Mariann Sudakov said: "Nord Stream submitted the application to conduct research in the Estonian economic zone to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs May 31. Since that date Estonia has four months to process this application and has to give an answer at the end of September. Estonia is processing this application thoroughly.

"Irrespective of whether Nord Stream will or will not get permission to begin the research, before beginning the constructions of the gas pipeline there are several matters that must be taken into consideration. Before starting the constructions an evaluation of environmental impact must be performed, the constructor needs Estonia's agreement for the planned location of the gas pipeline and other relevant permits and procedures must be followed. This all must guarantee the pursuit of Estonian interests and international law.

"Estonia has constantly emphasized the need to evaluate profoundly all the environmental effects and the need to take into consideration all the alternatives. The risks of an underwater gas pipeline affect the whole Baltic Sea region."

Only last week, Nord stream announced that it was re-routing a southern section of the 1,200 kilometer pipeline to pass north rather than south of the Danish island of Bornholm.

Nord Stream spokesperson Irina Vasilyeva told The Baltic Times: "Initially the route was planned through the Finnish exclusive economic zone, and then it underwent environmental assessments in line with international law. One of the outcomes was a recommendation by the Finnish authorities that we take a more southerly route. We have decided to explore the possibility."

"We have applied to the Estonian authorities to conduct a survey of the sea bed to see if it really is more environmentally friendly to pass through the Estonian economic zone. We are prepared to start the survey immediately," Vasilyeva said.

"Re-routing would not necessarily increase costs as the new route could actually be shorter than the existing route."

Nord Stream is a Russo-German gas pipeline project designed to link Russia and the European Union via the Baltic Sea. It will transport up to 55 billion cubic metres of gas each year. Russian energy company Gazprom holds a 51 percent interest in the joint venture, with German companies BASF and E.ON, which hold 24.5 percent each.

Nord Stream would bypass the existing transit states of Ukraine, Poland and Belarus. Faced with situations like Belarus' non-payment of bills, Russia would be able to cut off supplies without having a knock-on effect in western Europe.

The Baltic States were also cut out of the original route, but Nord Stream's eagerness to conduct its survey suggests that Estonian actions will prove decisive, after all. If both Finland and Estonia block the route through the Gulf of Finland, Nord Stream's directors will be unable to complete the link to the Russian terminus at Vyborg.

Though by far the largest and most expensive project of its kind, Nord Stream is only one of several planned energy infrastructure projects for the Baltic Sea. Poland has expressed an interest in a connection with Denmark [Baltic Pipe], while Estonia and Finland are also planning a connecting pipeline across the sea [Balticconnector]. Recently, President Adamkus of Lithuania revived interest in a Lithuanian-Swedish 'power bridge' via the Baltic.