Estonia has refused to take part, but Russians have expressed great concern and want to be heard in the environmental hearings on the Nord Stream project.
Nord Stream, which is the name of pipeline and the company building it, is slated to carry some 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia to Europe annually and supply gas to an estimated 20 million businesses and homes.
The company has already announced environmental hearings and review of preliminary materials for public evaluation for the Russian sector of the pipe. The hearings are slated to take place in Vyborg, close to he Finnish border, on November 23rd.
“The environmental impact hearings in Russia will be carried out in accord with Russian legislation with consideration of the relative regulations of international ecological rights, particularly the Espo Convention, which does not contradict Russian legislation,” the company said in a release.
The materials that will be under discussion are already on the company’s website and available for viewing at the Vyborg administration offices and Vyborg’s central library. The company has scheduled another discussion of ways to minimise environmental impact as a result of the project to be held December 24th at the offices of its Moscow representative, Piter Gaz.
When Nord Stream officials first came to Russian on July 28th, they set up an informal meeting between company representatives and he heads of environmental organisations in St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad Region. The framework of the meeting did not, however, achieve all the answers that concerned environmentalists posed. They followed up with a list of the unanswered questions on September 19 and sent it to the company.
It is possible that answers to these questions will surface in the published material provided by the company on its preliminaries to the environmental impact assessment on the Russian section of the pipeline, the conclusions of which appear so far to be optimistic.
“The planned impact on the environment will be of primarily a local and temporary character, negative changes to the ecosystem will be reversible and moderate in scale,” said one of the company published preliminary reports.
The literature further states that if any damage to the environment from construction of the gas sea terminal is estimated by the company to be up to 71.5 million roubles ($2 million), or the interests of third parties are affected, the damages will be “compensated by the company in accord with Russian legislation.”
However, whether there is any concrete mechanism for paying out such compensation could not be established by Bellona Web in conversations with Nord Stream.
“The mechanisms of such compensation will depend on the damages that could occur. For example, if one of your ships was damaged, then you would receive personal compensation for that ship,” Nordsream’s deputy technical director, Dirk Von Ameln told Bellona Web.
“If any harm comes to the fishing industry in some region, the question of compensation is to be raised with the region’s fishing organisations – if other damages are suffered, they will be discussed each concrete case.”
Northwest Russia, an ecological organisation, has far less sanguine about the compensation issue. The Gulf of Finland, along the bottom of which will be laid the 122 kilometers of the Russian portion of the pipeline, is a shallow and narrow body of water under stress from extensive shipping. Its unique ecosystem is one of the most vulnerable parts of the Baltic Sea, which requires cautious treatment, the organisation warns. At the same time, the Gulf of Finland will be host to the whole eastern section of the pipeline.
“There are a whole host of problems in the Gulf of Finland – there is reason to assume damage to the island territory of the planned Ingemanlandsky nature preserve as a result of laying the pipeline,” said Oleg Senov of the St. Petersburg environmental group Friends of the Baltic. “There is the assumption of possible impacts on other shoreline territories and the ocean ecosystem.”
Pipeline not a necessity for Ringed Seals
The Ingemanlandsky preserve is slated to grand protected nature territory status to 17,000 hectares of water in the Gulf of Finland, including nine islands in the Vyborg and Kingesepp regions.
Because these areas were, during the communist area closed border zones, the countryside has remained practically untouched and has remained a fertile habitat for ringed seals and a spawning ground for fisheries. The territory also claims the Belomor-Baltic migration path, and is home to traditional nesting points for many bird species.
Environmentalists think that in light of the Nord Stream pipeline, the creation of the Ingemanlandsky preserve – which was approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources a decade ago, but which has been hobbled by the Leningrad Regional government – will gain some immediacy.
“The Ingemanlandsky reserve itself will not be in the zone where the pipeline will be laid, however the functioning of the preserve will have a stabilizing influence on the natural complex of the Russian section of the Gulf of Finland where the construction will take place, compensating the unavoidable damages,” reads the address of Northwest Russian ecological organisations to the Fourth Ministerial Congress on the European Environment, which took place in Belgrade in October.
The Ingemanlandsky reserve could be the key link in the chain uniting the protected lands of Russia, Estonia and Finland in the Gulf of Finland, which would facilitate the fulfillment of Russia’s international obligations toward nature use and preservation of the biodiversity of the Baltic, environmentalists say.
In 2008, Russia will assume the rotating chairmanship of the Helsinki Commission for the Defence of the Baltic Sea -KhELKOM in its Russian acronym – which is the chief mechanism for enforcement of environmental preservation legislation in the Baltic Sea area.
The Russian natural resources ministry is currently finalising the procedural details for Russia’s assumption of KhELKOM leadership and drawing up Russia’s priorities for its KhELKOM tenure – which include a national plan for the Baltic Sea.
Natural Resources Minister Yury Turentyev in August held a meeting with Finnish Environmental Minister Paula Lehtomaki to discuss environmental preservation in the Baltic and the creation of a network of protected nature zones.
Alexander Ishkov, director of the Natural Resources Ministry’s political department, said that the agreement for the creation of the Ingemanlandsky reserve is currently being drafted in accord with the government decree for its joint creation with Finland. The reserve will also include the Russia’s Karelia national park and Finland’s Oulanka national park.
How far to Tallinn?
As a trans-border project, Nord Stream is subject to an environmental evaluation in accord with the Espo convention as well as national legislation of those countries whose territorial waters or economic zones it passes through. But Estonia recently absented itself from this process by proclaiming on September 20th that Nord Stream is not allowed to pass through its territory.
Its essential point of declining, the Estonia government implied, was keeping information about its exploitable natural resources to itself.
“Because boring on the shelf during the proposed investigative work would give information about the quantity of Estonia’s natural resources and the potential for their use, the Estonian republic rightfully refuses that such work be carried out,” the Estonian government said in a statement.
The Estonia Foreign Affairs Minister says Urmas Paet said an even bigger reason for refusing Nordstream is that the Estonian government does not consider the Baltic Sea suitable for gas pipeline construction because of environmental and other risks.
“Taking into account that the International Maritime Organisation has called the Baltic Sea a sensitive water zone, It would in our opinion be best if the pipeline not run though the Baltic but on dry land,” Paets was quoted as saying in the Estonia daily Postimees.
Estonia’s Green Party also came forward and made a similar announcement. In its statement of September 19th, the party underscores that if European companies wish to expand the delivery and use of Russian gas, then they should propose running the pipeline though areas where other pipelines already exist in order to avert inflicting new environmental damages.
The Estonian Greens furthermore consider that pumping gas at high pressure is dangerous enough and comparable to putting explosives along the seabed. “A possible rupture in the pipe could lead to an explosion, and the shockwave would be equal that of detonation a sea mine, and damage containers holding carcinogenic substances that would build up on the sea floor over may years,” the Greens’ statement read.
A few days later, on September 27th, the Ene Ergma, president of Estonia’s Parliament again shed light on the Environmental dangers of the project during the Baltic Sea in a Whirlwind of Chance international navigation conference in Tallinn.
Refereing to the words of Gerhard Schröder, Nord Stream’s Sharholder Committee Chairman and former German Chancellor, who has indicated that the project will be accompanied by voluminous work along the sea floor, Ergma said that associated risks were too high.
“Work on in the Baltic See to begin laying a gas pipeline, which will entail ripping a 12,000 kilometre, 50 metre wide canal in the seabed which will demand leveling the sand that lies along the way, atomizing volcanic formations and fill ditched along the bottom of the sea. The pipe will be partially buried under cement,” Ergma said.
“Anyone trying to evaluate the attendant environmental impact of this project will find that it is so great that will change even the sea currents. We also know that the dangers left to us by the legacies of the last century – hidden munitions under the sea, and chemical weapons – lie in the immediate vicinity of the planned pipeline.”
The second stage of international environmental impact assessments are planned to be carried out by Nord Stream in the spring of next year and Estonia will be taking part as the single country that stands to be impacted the most.