The EU has backed down on the project, but Germany still gives support to the Russian initiative
The project of a second set of gas pipelines through the Baltic Sea, in order to transport Russian gas to the European Union without crossing Ukraine, has divided the EU governments. Some Eastern and Central European countries, backed by the United States, argue against any dependency on Russian gas supplies, but Germany keeps its support to the Russian plans.
▲The routes of the Nord Stream and the planned Nord Stream 2 pipelines from Russia to Germany [Gazprom]
ARTICLE / Ane Gil Elorri
The natural gas consumption for nowadays is essential to have basic necessities covered. Therefore, it´s imperative for everyday life. Nevertheless, it goes through a laborious process before it reaches the consumers. The gas needs to be extracted from the land or sea subsurface, and transported, before it reaches its destiny, being pipelines the most common via of transportation.
The EU´s domestic gas production has been declining and the reserves in the North Sea depleted. Therefore, in order to meet demands, the EU has turned to other suppliers; being the most important Russia, Saudi Arabia and Norway. In fact, a lot of countries in the European Union are heavily dependent on Russian imports, especially of natural gas, which often go through transit countries such as Ukraine and Belarus. The decisions are all make through the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue. Russia has the largest gas reserves in the world. With 44,600 billion cubic meters, Russia has 23.9 percent of the world’s currently known gas reserves, followed by Iran (15.8 percent), Qatar (13.5 percent), the United States, and Turkmenistan (4.3 percent each).
The most prominent European energy supply is the Nord Stream Pipelines. Nord Stream are a twin set of pipelines that provide gas transportation capacity for the natural gas, which comes from the Western Russia (Vyborg) into Lubmin, Germany, for the distribution into the European gas grid. This system is composed by a set of 1,224-kilometre pipelines through the Baltic Sea, and each hold the capacity to transport 27.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year. Line 1 became operational in November 2011 and by October 8, 2012 the system was fully operational, having taken the construction of these pipelines 30 months.
The desire of a grand-scale gas transport between Russia and the western Europe goes back to the 1970´s, to the contract between a German company (Ruhrgas AG) and Gazprom (national Russian gas company) to supply natural gas. In 2000 the European Commission recognized the need for a pipeline in the Baltic Sea. In December 2005, the North European Gas Pipeline Company was established and by October 4, 2006, the North European Gas Pipeline was ofﬁcially renamed Nord Stream. It was finally completed and functional in October 2012.
The Nord Stream project was very ambitious. Nevertheless, it was completed on time, on budget, and without permanently impacting the environment. The Nord Stream Pipeline system is fully operational and capable of transporting up to 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas every year to Europe.
Now, a new project is developing based on the success of the Nord Stream Pipelines: Nord Stream 2. This project will benefit from the experience of the previous pipeline, which has set a new high for the environmental, technical and safety standards throughout its planning, construction and operation. The idea is to add a new set of twin pipelines along the Baltic Sea route to increase the capacity of gas transportation in order to meet the demands of Europe. In fact, this new pipeline will create a direct link between Gazprom and the European consumers.
The Nord Stream 2 project is implemented by the Nord Stream 2 AG project company, where Gazprom is the sole shareholder. In October 2012, the shareholders of the Nord stream project examined the possibility of constructing a third and fourth pipeline and came to the conclusion that it was economically and technically attainable. In April 2017, Nord Stream 2 AG signed the financing agreements for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with ENGIE, OMV, Royal Dutch Shell, Uniper, and Wintershall. These five European energy companies will provide long-term financing for 50 per cent of the total cost of the project.
The entry point into the Baltic Sea of the twin pipeline will be the Ust-Luga area of the Leningrad Region. Then the pipeline will stretch across the Baltic Sea. Its exit point in Germany will be in the Greifswald area close to the exit point of the original Nord Stream. The route covers over 1,200 kilometres.
The total capacity of the second twin set of pipelines is 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year. Therefore, the sum with the prior pipelines would give an outstanding number of 110 billion cubic metres of gas per year. Nord Stream 2 will be operational before late 2019.
This project is defended with the argument that it supposed a diversification of the routs transporting natural gas to Europe and to elevate the energetic security due to the instability of the transit of gas through Ukraine. For now, a lot of the natural gas consumed by Europe comes from Russia through Ukraine. Nevertheless, if this project goes through, Ukraine will lose 2,000 million dollars for the transit of natural gas, and even the proportion of gas will decrease (which is also for personal use) leading to the collapse and finalization of the transit of natural gas through Ukraine. Furthermore, if Hungary, Slovakia and Poland receive natural gas through the Nord Stream 2 pipelines instead of through Ukraine, it will be very difficult that Ukraine receives gas from the west, seeing as Gazprom along with others controls EUGAL (European Gas Pipeline Link) can reduce the supply of gas to those companies that provide gas to Ukraine.
The cost of 1,000 cubic meters in 100 kilometres through Nord Stream 2 would cost 2,1 million dollars while through Ukraine it costs 2,5 million dollars. The tariff of transportation of natural gas through Nord Stream is 20% lower than through Ukraine.
The main Russian gas pipelines to Eastern and Central Europe [Samuel Bailey/CC]
Only half of the European Union members approve the negotiations between the EU and Russia over the Nord Stream 2 Project. It is true that the natural gas demand of Europe is growing each year but some countries such as the Baltics are against anything that has to do with Russia. Besides the US, thanks to fracking, has become the biggest producer of gas, and is now looking to substitute Russia as the principal gas provider of the EU.
But other countries are in favour of this project. In January 31 this year, Germany gave its permission to begin the construction of the pipelines of Nord Stream 2 in their territorial waters. Berlin also authorized the construction of the section of 55 kilometres that will go through the terrestrial part situated in Lubmin. In April this year, Finland has also given the two permissions needed to begin the construction.
Nevertheless, Gazprom will be facing a few difficulties in order to pull through with this project. The company still needs that other countries, such as Norway, Denmark and Russia, give authorizations and permissions to construct the pipelines in their exclusive economic zone. There is a risk that Denmark doesn’t authorize these new pipelines. The Danish Agency of Energy and the Foreign Office both have to give their approval but can deny the permit if Nord Stream 2 represents a danger for the environment. Another problem is purely political: the European Commission is trying to make the implementation of the project fit with the EU legislation. In November 2017, the European Commission prepared a list of amendments to its energy legislation, known as the Third Energy Package, which will pursue gas pipelines that come from the markets of countries that have the Brussels standards. Because of this, Gazprom won’t be able to be the only shareholder of the Nord Stream 2 project and the pipelines will have to carry gas of other companies that have nothing to do with Gazprom.
Although, as previously mentioned, Nord Stream 2 has already received the two permits necessary in Germany and Finland in order to begin the construction, it seems that not many European countries are in favour of this project. In fact, since this April, the EU and the European Commission have withdrawn their support claiming that Nord Stream 2 does not encourage the diversification of gas supply, and they give more significance to the gas pipelines going through the Ukrainian territory in context of diversification of supply routes.
Other EU countries and of the region, such as Ukraine, Denmark, the Baltic States and Poland, have continuously spoken against Nord Stream 2, claiming that the project will increase Europe’s dependence on imported Russian gas. Nevertheless, German Chancellor Angela Merkel supports this project, considering it to be an economic project which does not pose a threat to EU energy security, has is expected, seeing as the Nord Stream 2 is a joint venture between Russia’s Gazprom, France's Engie, Austria’s OMV AG, the Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell, and Uniper and Wintershall, both German.
Nevertheless, the most vocally active countries against this project are the US and Ukraine. On one side, the United States believes that this project would undermine Europe´s overall energy security and stability. It would also provide Russia other ways to pressure European countries, especially Ukraine. The US even threatened the EU firms to be subjected to Countering America´s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). On the other side, Ukraine’s efforts to prevent the implementation of Nord Stream appears to be futile. They openly stated that this would conclude on the Russian monopoly on the world gas market, which would lead in Europe to an energy crisis and to an economic and political destabilization, and called for the international community to step in. Unfortunately, Germany is as headstrong as ever, stating that underwater pipeline to bring gas from Russia could not go forward without Ukrainian involvement in overland transit.
As the recent expulsion of European diplomats in Moscow shows, the global political relations have worsened considerably in the last few years. In fact, some would say that it the worst condition since the Cold War. This new political situation has had consequences on the Nord Stream 2, causing European countries to oppose to this project. The ultimate defender left standing of the programme is Germany, even the EU has backed down after Ukraine's protest. Ukraine has every right to oppose to this project, seeing as Russia has had nothing more but cold moves towards this country (cut off gas supplies in the middle of winter, Crimea), and is not outrageous to think that this project would ultimately affect the country, specially economically. Therefore, this project does not diversify the sources of natural gas, the first Nord Stream already reached this objective. The second Nord Stream, however, would grant Russia a monopoly of natural gas, which is not recommendable seeing as it would create Europe’s dependence on Russia, and Russia could take advantage of it. Unfortunately, Russia will not give up this project, even with mostly everybody turns against it.