Environmental impact of Baltic Sea pipeline greatest in building phase
The construction of the planned gas pipeline from Russia to Germany along the bottom of the Gulf of Finland may, at its worst, have an effect on the entire coastline of the Gulf plus the southern regions of the Finnish Archipelago.
According to the Russian-German company Nord Stream, which is responsible of the design of the pipeline, the construction work will free sediments from the seabed causing the sea water to become turbid for some time.
The seabed ecosystems may be destroyed within a hundred-metre range from the laid pipeline.
Further possible risks include oil spills and wartime explosives that may lie at the bottom.
"The pipeline will be laid along the bottom of the Gulf of Finland at an average depth of sixty metres, and thus its environmental impact is likely to remain minute. Upon completion, this impact should be reduced to zero. It is highly unlikely that the pipeline should ever burst", explains Dirk von Ameln, Deputy Technical Director at Nord Stream.
The exact environmental effects of laying the pipeline, however, are somewhat unclear, for the seabed sediments have not been examined, for example for possible heavy metals or other toxic agents.
"The Finnish authorities have a poor knowledge of the state of the seabed at the pipeline routing as it runs outside the Finnish territorial waters. We simply do not know what's out there", notes senior advisor Jorma Jantunen of the Uusimaa Regional Environment Centre.
A clearer picture of the condition of the seabed should emerge next year, when Nord Stream completes its own research into the matter.
The construction of the planned pipeline from the Russian city of Vyborg to Germany is scheduled to start in 2008.
The undertaking will soon be scrutinised by the Finnish authorities, for the pipeline would run inside the Finnish economic zone for a total of 369 kilometres.
The assessment of the pipeline's environmental impact started on Tuesday, when Nord Stream presented its plan for the very purpose of looking into the likely impact.
The Uusimaa Regional Environment Centre will collect expert opinions regarding the plan, based on which it will compile a statement by the end of February.
The assessment of the environmental effects will take about a year. After that the gas pipeline will need an environment permit and an authorisation from the government.
The process is not likely to prevent the construction of the pipeline, for other countries are allowed to build pipelines and power lines within the Finnish economic zone, so long as they comply with the Finnish environmental regulations.
Complaints, however, might postpone the multi-billion-euro undertaking by several years.
In Sweden the gas pipeline is seen as a security threat. "Such a construction could be used as a platform for espionage", Swedish Minister of Defence Mikael Odenberg told the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE Radio News on Tuesday.
Roughly 500 kilometres of the pipeline would run inside the Swedish economic zone. Furthermore, there are plans to erect a permanently-manned service tower just northeast of the Swedish island of Gotland. In Sweden this has been dubbed as "a new Russian island right next to Sweden". Swedish fears have not been dampened by remarks from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the effect that the gas pipeline is one of Russia's most important strategic projects in the Baltic region and that the country's naval forces will protect it.
When it comes onstream, the planned 1,200-kilometre pipeline would carry an annual 55 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Western Europe. The project is scheduled for completion in 2012.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Russian minister: Wood buyers share responsibility for illegal felling (11.10.2006)
Gulf of Finland an increasingly important conduit to the West for Russia (26.5.2006)