The company responsible for the construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is trying to convince Russian environmentalists on the Internet to carry out the project. They, in turn, argue that the project not only threatens the environment, but also runs counter to the Russian constitution. The Russian government agency does not give any hope to environmentalists and does not consider their opinions binding – writes Piotr Stępiński, editor of the BiznesAlert.pl.
As the newly created website Nord Stream 2 AG, dedicated to the Kurgalsky Reserve through which the Nord Stream 2 route is to pass, convinces, the impact on the social and environmental aspects of the pipeline construction will be minimal. – We know that the Kurgalsky Peninsula is an area of strict environmental protection. Within five years, local and international experts conducted a comprehensive survey to determine the best possible Nord Stream 2 route. They analysed all the factors and came to the conclusion that the route through the Narva Bay and the southern, peripheral part of the Kurgalsky Reserve is optimal – as we read on the website. At the same time, the company is trying to convince the reader that the implementation of additional environmental initiatives will make it possible to compensate for any environmental impact. This is not the first time that Nord Stream 2 AG has tried to reassure the environmentalists on this matter. The Company conducted environmental research, among others, which showed the presence of many protected species in the Kurgalsky Reserve. Interestingly, their description was published in a scientific publication The Russian Journal of Ornithology, supported by Nord Stream 2 AG. These assurances were not convincing for the ecologists.
It was possible to choose
There were several concepts for the Nord Stream 2 route in Russia. The location of the gas pipeline near St. Petersburg, Sosnovy Bor and in the port of Vyborg was analysed, from where the first two lines of the Baltic transmission route are coming out. The Nord Stream 2 AG experts considered the first two proposals unenforceable. In the case of Vyborg, this option appeared to be impossible due to the density of buildings, infrastructure, and rules on the minimum distance between pipelines and residential areas. Moreover, there are no shipping lanes in the Narva Bay in the area and it is located approximately 4 km away from the planned reserve in the Gulf of Finland. In addition, there is a mild, sandy seabed there, which reduces the intensity of deep-sea works, the route is shorter, and thus the environmental impact of gas pipeline construction is lower. However, it turned out that the perception of the project by Nord Stream 2 AG is radically different from that of Russian environmentalists.
Greenpeace warns. The Authority does not care
According to the social environmental expert reports relied on by Greenpeace Russia, the project of laying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline via the territory of the Kurgalsky Reserve is illegal and dangerous to the environment. In mid-January, the document was handed over to the Federal Service for Supervision in the Use of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor – editorial note). As Greenpeace points out, the authority will have to take social expert opinions into account when preparing the decision on the gas pipeline route. Although Rosprirodnadzor claims that they will look at the documents presented by environmentalists, they will not be binding for the authority. They stated, among other things, that:
•the Nord Stream 2 Project runs counter to environmental requirements under federal and regional law and international conventions,
•construction of the gas pipeline will have a negative impact on the environment, as well as social and economic consequences,
•instead of traditional gas pipeline laying, the microtunnelling method should be chosen.
In this context, let us recall that, as early as October last year, environmentalists were prepared to accept the alignment of Nord Stream 2 by the Kurgalsky Reserve, if microtunnelling technology was used instead of excavations. This does not change the fact that the Leningrad Oblast authorities have done their utmost to facilitate the construction of a controversial gas pipeline as much as possible. In July 2017, the status of the reserve was changed, allowing any linear infrastructure to be arranged via the reserve. As underlined by environmentalists, this legalises the construction of Nord Stream 2 via legally protected areas. Legislation on wetlands of international importance was amended at the end of last year.
As Greenpeace points out, the decision was made in breach of the law because it was signed and made public before the deadline for the independent anti-corruption expert reports to be carried out. In this case, environmentalists appealed to the Prosecutor General. This fact has not escaped Russian media attention. Kommersant’s article on this topic indicates that further attempts are being made to push Nord Stream 2 out of the route. The Nord Stream 2 AG company, on the other hand, argued that its analyses “made it possible to choose the route that would save on the environment to a largest extent.”
The route chosen by the company crosses the territory of the Kurgalsky Reserve. A 3.7 km long pipeline will cross the protected area. As environmentalists point out, Nord Stream 2 AG argues that this option is more economically advantageous. It argues that it is shorter, more comfortable, and probably cheaper. However, the construction is to be associated with the felling of trees and other kind of intervention into the area of natural value. The gas pipeline is to pass via a centuries-old forest and unique dunes. All trees will be cut down on the 4 km trail through which the transmission route is to run. Nord Stream 2 AG is trying to convince that it has listened to the voice of the public and has decided to change the way the pipeline is laid. In this way, the width of the ditch in which it is to be laid should not be between 60 and 85 metres, but 30-60 metres.
The discussion on the arterial line addresses not only environmental but also procedural issues. These problems were encountered not only in the aforementioned procedure of amending the regulations on wetlands of international importance. According to environmentalists, similar situations occurred in the public surveys held last year in Russia on the environmental impact of Nord Stream 2. The organisers were accused of not including in the summary document of the survey the environmentalists’ comments on the decision of the authorities to agree on the pipeline route. Moreover, the authors of the environmental impact assessment have been reminded that there are no records on alternative gas pipeline routes.
The support of German environmentalists
In this context, it should be noted that Russian environmentalists can count on the support of their German colleagues, who are equally critical of the Nord Stream 2 project. According to representatives of the German Nature Conservation Association, the laying of two further Nord Stream pipelines will have disastrous consequences for the environment. It may create new underwater ditches in coastal areas. Conversely, contamination of seabed sediment may mean that phosphates and nitrates from soil are released into water. In addition, the German media have made accusations that the studies on the environmental impact of gas pipeline construction were falsified, and their authors were paid for by Nord Stream 2 AG. BusinessAlert.pl informed about this already in May 2017.
The increasingly loud protests of nature conservationists are starting to resonate in the ears of those responsible for the construction of Nord Stream 2. The creation of a website about the Kurgalsky Reserve can be considered as one of the effects. Previously, Gazprom did not give such a special appreciation to individual protected areas. It can be assumed that environmentalists will fight until the end for a re-routing of the gas pipeline. Rosprirodnadzor is expected to decide on the route of Nord Stream 2 via Russian territory on 29 January. Will the authorities accept the arguments of the environmentalists and will they change the route and therefore perhaps delay the pipeline? Or will the willingness to implement the project win and Gazprom will only offer compensation for environmental damage? The answer is about to come soon.