The opposition to the Baltic Pipe, a gas pipeline that will transmit Norwegian gas via Denmark to Poland, has taken various forms, but its scale has been too small to impact the project’s progression. Legislation initiated by the investment’s opponents, who claimed it should be stopped for social and environmental reasons, could have been a serious hindrance. However, their initiative to introduce a bill that would block the Baltic Pipe failed – writes Bartłomiej Sawicki, editor at BiznesAlert.pl.
Benefits for Denmark
There are two major reasons why Poland decided to build the Baltic Pipe. The first goal is to end the country’s dependence on Russian gas and the second is energy transition. On its road to zero emissions, Poland will replace coal with gas, which generates less pollutants. Over 210 km of the new pipeline will go through Denmark’s territory, which agreed to the construction mostly for economic reasons. While in the coming years, the general demand for natural gas in Denmark will be dropping, the industry will still need large quantities. Gas transmission from Norway to Poland may contribute to maintaining low transmission tariffs. Additionally, in the future the infrastructure may be used to transmit biogas and hydrogen. From the point of view of the European Union, the investment will improve the integration of the gas market and competitiveness. In early 2019, the pipe was granted subsidies by the European Commission as part of the Connecting Europe Facility. The money will cover 30 percent of the investment’s total cost.
Farmers go to court
Over 210 km of the onshore section of the pipe in Denmark will run across 13 Dutch communes, mostly through areas owned by farmers and landowners, who oppose and question the project. The farmers and local authorities voiced their concerns already in late 2017 during a public hearing on the Baltic Pipe. They complained about the time construction would take on their land, the depreciation of their plots and the amount of compensation. The objections and complaints were delivered to Energinet.dk, the Danish transmission system operator (TSO), at the beginning of the investment. Still, they did not impact the pace of the work, because the investment received all required permits and there was no legal basis to question it and stop the construction.
In May this year, three out of the several dozens of farmers that are against the construction, filed a class action suit against the state. They believe it was illegal to disown them from the land on which the pipe will be put, because the project did not serve any public interest. The plaintiffs also demand higher compensation. The farmers received an offer of EUR 17 thousand (after conversion from Danish krone) for one kilometer of land.
“Baltic Pipe? No, thanks!”
Early this year, organizations that are against the new gas pipeline intensified their efforts to undermine the project. The „Baltic Pipe Nej Tak!” („Baltic Pipe, No, thanks!”) campaign is a wide movement against new infrastructure for fossil fuels, and especially against the Baltic Pipe. „Baltic Pipe Nej Tak!” is not an organization with members, it is a campaign open to anybody who is against the investment. This year the group organized protests in places, where the construction work took place. The campaign has a webpage and a fanpage on one of the social media platforms, but it does not have a specific program due to its loose organization. Still, the demands listed on their website and social media profile are close to those of environmental organizations’ that call for an immediate stop to extraction and transmission of all fossil fuels. In early August, activists made it impossible to carry out work at a few construction sites on the Zealand Island. Their tactics included chaining themselves to construction equipment and blocking access to the building sites. The police had to intervene. In July activists from the same organization protested in eastern Jutland as well. They blocked a Baltic Pipe construction site and the police arrested 15 people.
Failed bill against the Baltic Pipe
Neither the actions of the farmers, nor the illegal antics of the activists brought on any legal consequences, which would delay, block or altogether stop the construction. However, this could be caused by a legal act, processed at the Danish parliament, i.e. at the political and legal level. Last spring an initiative to stop the construction of the Baltic Pipe was launched in Denmark. At the beginning of May, a group of citizens started a formal procedure to collect signatures to support a legislative initiative that would be forwarded to the Danish parliament. They wanted to block the construction of the Baltic Pipe on Denmark’s territory. On the 5th of May the process to collect signatures was opened on the webpage of the Danish parliament. In order to be able to submit the application to the parliament, the opponents of the pipe had to collect 50 thousand signatures by 1 November. The applicants wanted the parliament to order the minister of climate and energy to immediately withdraw their permit to construct the Baltic Pipe. They stressed the conditions for building the pipe have changed since the decision had been issued on 30 November 2018. On the 6th of December 2019 the Parliament adopted a new climate bill, which obliges Denmark do decrease CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
The petition was started by local residents, land owners, as well as members of some local governments through which the pipe will cross to connect Denmark’s west coast with the eastern part of the country. According to the Danish law, every citizen that has the right to vote in parliamentary elections can submit a civic application. The motion needs to be signed by at least three people who also need to co-author it. If 50 thousand citizens that have the right to vote in parliamentary elections support the motion, it may be presented as a draft bill, discussed and voted on in the parliament. However, despite the fact that the Danish media frequently reported on the controversies surrounding the Baltic Pipe, the proposition failed to gather the required number of signatures. By November 1 only 12,793 people supported it. However, this does mean the group will cease its protests. It only means that a serious legislative initiative failed, as it did not attract enough attention from the Danish people and political parties.
However, an actual challenge that is a lot more serious is the speed with which the construction is progressing. In October Energniet.dk announced the rainy weather in the last few months, in conjunction with the pandemic will delay the investments that were to be concluded this year. The construction work in Zealand will take longer than initially expected. “To avoid major field damage, the work on parts of the section is not expected to be completed until next summer,” the Danish TSO, which together with its Polish counterpart is responsible for the Baltic Pipe construction, said in s statement. The pipeline is set to be ready in October 2022. According to GAZ-SYSTEM, the Polish operator, the delays experienced by its Danish counterpart have not impacted the project’s completion deadline (October 2022 – ed.). “We have steering committees, so we are monitoring the risks in Denmark and Poland. We have buffers for unexpected situations. The final deadline is October 2022 and neither Poland nor Denmark expect it to change,” Artur Zawartko said during the Polish Gas Sector Congress last October.
In the same month, Piotr Naimski, the Government Plenipotentiary for Strategic Energy Infrastructure, announced that GAZ-SYSTEM had selected contractors for key gas pipelines and compressor stations. He stressed the contracts would be signed soon and the project was going according to schedule.