Nord Stream is evil brewing in the Baltic, Lithuania says

Publish date: November 30, 2007

Written by: Galina Raguzina

Translated by: Maria Kaminskaya

“No to deadly sites!” – such has been the reaction of many outstanding representatives of the Lithuanian public to the various emerging projects that involve oil and gas transport across the Baltic Sea. But the latest controversy of the developing oil field D-6 and the subsea gas pipeline, Nord Stream, is doing little to quell Lithuanians’ fears.

“We understand and support your concern and your fight for the human lives and health, for the preservation of the environment,” said the well-known Lithuanian marine biologist and community leader Leonas Kerosierius as he handed Bellona Web‘s correspondent two statements outlining the Lithuanian public‘s long-established position to D-6 and Nord Stream.

One is titled “On the harmful consequences of the operation of the oil field D-6,” penned as long ago as May 29, 2003, and the other, “On the potential harmful consequences of the construction and operation of a gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea,” of October 12, 2005.

Kerosierius, an expert with the Lithuanian State Centre for Fish Farming and Fish Studies and vice-president of the Alliance of Associations Žuvininkų rūmai, said the two statements had the signed backing of prominent Lithuanian scientists, leaders of the country’s major environmental and cultural organisations, and representatives of the fishing industry. The letters were addressed to heads of state, parliamentarians and prime ministers, foreign and environmental policy-makers and members of the European Parliament.

Today, as the Lithuanian environmentalists join their ranks with Russian counterparts in protest to the developing Nord Stream project, Kerosierius’s words acquire a special weight in view of the impending public hearings soon to take place in the Russian Northwestern city of Vyborg to discuss the report on the preliminary ecological impact assessment of the Russian section of the gas pipeline.

Not least, their show of support seems all the more to-the-point after the recent ecological catastrophe that swept over the area around Kerch Strait, a narrow passage connecting the Black and Azov seas, when a storm-caused shipping mayhem there resulted in the sinking of five vessels, including one oil tanker, and a spill of at least some 2,000 tonnes of fuel oil.

“The Republic of Lithuania is worried by the potentially perilous consequences that may harm our nation and our population as a result of the construction and operation of this gas pipe, because even the slightest emergency situation can cause a huge negative impact on the environment and bring detriment to the flora and fauna, as well as people,” the Nord Stream statement reads.

Other Baltic states whose interests may be affected by the Nord Stream project also express fears over the possible ramifications of its development as they either demand changes to the anticipated route the gas pipeline will take in the waters that belong to their jurisdiction or oppose the very idea of its crossing their territory altogether.

As evidenced by their efforts, the Baltic seems too small and too crowded a sea for its nations to be able to find a spot they could afford wasting on a dangerous project.

A little trust for the Nord Stream pipe dream? Anyone?

As one example, Sweden voiced its official concern at the October 31 meeting of environment ministers during the Nordic Council Session in Norway’s Oslo, when it said the pipeline’s expected crossing of the Swedish economic zone in the vicinity of the island of Gotland will in fact traverse an ecologically sensitive area, a natural habitat site included into the European environmental conservation network Natura-2000.

To avoid potential detriment, says the Swedish Ministry of the Environment, the route has to be shifted to the east, further away from the Swedish shore and closer to the shoreline shared by the former Soviet nations of the Baltic.

“In order for [our] government to be able to assess the environmental impact, comprehensive background material of a high standard is needed that allows comparisons of the route applied … with other possible main routes that are advantageous from an environmental perspective. The environmental impact assessment should include descriptions of such alternative main routes in the Baltic Sea,” said Sweden’s minister for the environment Andreas Carlgren, according to a press release from his agency.

But barely had the Nord Stream project developers, the Nord Stream AG company, granted the Swedish government’s demand to carry out an additional ecological impact study to determine the safety of alternative gas pipeline routes when… enter Finland. In its turn, Finland said it intended to insist that the developers alter the planned route in accordance with its own requirements. Finland, too, is worried about the project’s potential damage to its protected natural aquatic areas.

As far as Finland is concerned – in the words of its Ministry of the Environment – the pipeline should cross the sea to the south of the Russian island of Hogland, or Suursaari, as it is known in Finland. At present, the pipeline is projected to be laid north of the island, which is just 35 kilometres south off the Finnish shoreline.

Finland is apprehensive about the stockpiles of cadmium – a silver-white metal known to be carcinogenic, as well as toxic if turned to dust or fumes – that are collected on the sea bottom near the island. During the construction works, this cadmium might get accidentally lifted to sea surface and carried by currents all over the area, poisoning the nearby natural preserve in Finland.

“The closer the pipes are laid to the nature preserve’s territory, the higher their danger is for the environment,” the German new agency DPA quoted Finland’s environment minister Kimmo Tiilikainen as saying.

Earlier this year, Finland already claimed it needed the pipeline’s route to be shifted, and far enough for it to end up in its neighbour’s backyard: namely, from its own waters to those of Estonia. The project developers went as far as trying to satisfy that demand, but Estonia’s unequivocal “no” left no room for discussion.

Our way or the dry way?

The Nord Stream hot-potato ping-pong aside, the pipeline’s opponents have an even more radical demand than the ones that are already making the project’s implementation that much more protracted and expensive. The idea that has been repeatedly reiterated by Estonia, Lithuania, and Sweden is that the developer company consider an option of laying the pipeline on land and forget about it crossing the Baltic Sea altogether.

“We are preparing a statement at the level of the ministries of economy of the Baltic nations and Poland, which will be addressed to the European Commission and say that, really, we need to research a real alternative. And the real alternative here is laying the pipeline on land,” Estonia’s foreign minister Urmas Paet said in a televised interview on October 28.

According to a report published by the Latvian news outlet Telegraf, members of the Baltic Europe Intergroup of the European Parliament said at a October 30 press conference in Strasbourg that they had addressed the European Commission with a request to consider holding a referendum in each of the nations of the Baltic region regarding the perspective of having the gas pipeline in their neighbourhood.

In Sweden, Carl B. Hamilton, a member of the Swedish parliament says his country must finally stop being what he sees as noncommittal and join its Baltic neighbours in their plight: “[The] three Baltic states and Poland want to receive money from the European Commission to carry out a research into whether it is possible to lay the gas pipeline on land. This could be suitable for Sweden, too. It would be good for Sweden to join this course of action,” Hamilton said to the Swedish news bureau TT on November 13.

As was pointed out by Estonia’s Green Party in a statement made public in September, if Nord Stream’s developers ultimately choose the now-preferred subsea option, the pipeline will be subject to no outside control whatsoever, much less that from the public. That will make it possible to interpret any incidents as provocations or even attacks, should the need to do so ever arise.

The imminent evil

According to Estonia’s environmentalists, whatever boost in gas deliveries is predicted in the future, accommodating the growing trade must only be done by building additional pipelines along the existing transport corridors.

“Then there will be no need in inflicting [new] damage on the environment by building new gas pipelines on land or across the bottom of the Baltic Sea, and no need in shipping gas in tankers by sea and intensifying the shipping traffic in the Baltic, which is quite congested as it is,” their statement reads.

Ecologists in Lithuania, who are just as worried by the Nord Stream project as they are by the D-6 oil field development, are of the opinion that transporting gas is no less dangerous than oil transports.

“Natural disasters are not uncommon in the world,” their own statement says. “Today’s oil production industry is susceptible to calamities of such consequences that one is hard-pressed to fully assess. Humankind has yet to create a completely safe technology of oil production and transport. This is why society is concerned with this and other issues.”

Just how concerned society can get and how eerily environmentalists’ forewarnings can turn true was only recently demonstrated by the unprecedented devastation at sea and on shore alike when an oil tanker split in two during a severe storm and dumped its load of fuel oil in Kerch Strait.

As Lithuanian activists see it, laying the pipeline across the bottom of the Baltic Sea simply can cause the environment no other consequences but detrimental.

“Along where the gas pipeline will cross, the flora and the fauna will be destroyed or sustain a negative impact, natural fish feeding and spawning areas will disappear, and the nature and fishing industry will suffer immense damage,” their document continues.

Lithuania’s fish expert and activist Kerosierius trusts that the people of the Baltic will defend their sea and seek help from the European Parliament and other responsible European organisations to do so.

“One wants to believe that progressive mankind will fight back and the bottom of the Baltic Sea will not become the source of death and profit of Russian and German monopolies. Every inhabitant of the Baltic shores must repel this evil deed being prepared by Russia and Germany in the Baltic Sea,” he concluded.