The Nord Stream, also known as the Baltic Sea Pipeline, is a system of underwater gas pipelines that run from Russia to Germany. The first two strands of the pipeline (Nord Stream 1) were built in November 2011 and run from Vyborg to Lubmin near Greifswald.
The subsequent, similar Nord Stream 2 project also consists of two tubes and runs roughly parallel in terms of geography. The laying work on the first strand was completed on June 4, 2021. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is to transport 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Russia to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania through the Baltic Sea.
Nord Stream 1 is owned and operated by Nord Stream AG, whose shares are owned by Gazprom (51%), E.ON (now Uniper), Wintershall (both Germany), Gasunie, OMV (Austria) and Engie (France; previously GDF SUEZ SA). Nord Stream 2 is owned by Nord Stream 2 AG, which is wholly owned by the Russian Gazprom group.
Inefficient and unecological
However, according to the German Institute for Economic Research, an additional line to secure the natural gas supply in Germany and Europe is unnecessary and economically unprofitable. There is no short-term or long-term coverage gap for gas. The existing gas infrastructure covers current and future needs.
Rather, Nord Stream 2 threatens to start dangerous lock-in effects that will delay the expansion of renewable energies. Gas as a climate-friendly bridging technology is a myth. The opposite is the case. Due to the methane emissions during extraction, transport and use, natural gas is a climate killer, just like coal. Natural gas consists of almost 100% methane (CH4), which is a potent and aggressive greenhouse gas with a global warming potential that is more than 100 times stronger than that of CO2. If the entire life cycle emissions are taken into account, the carbon footprint at high leakage rates during extraction or transport is roughly the same as that of coal. Considering the already advanced accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the expansion of new gas infrastructure can, in the worst case, accelerate the reaching of tipping points in the climate system, which clearly contradicts the EU’s climate targets. The obligations from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement clearly mean that no fossil fuel infrastructure – and therefore no natural gas infrastructure either – may be built. We have to get out of fossil fuels by 2050 at the latest, but the new gas terminal will not be ready until 2025 at the earliest. That will never pay for itself. Instead of investing billions of euros into backwards-looking technology, Germany should finance sustainable and environmentally friendly projects.
Great damage to marine ecosystems
Nature conservation organizations in Europe are concerned – if the project is implemented, Germany will no longer be able to achieve the goals set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Germany’s broken commitments will have disastrous consequences for the environment and the first signs of it are already being felt.
The problem of contamination by leakage was already known from the first Nord Stream project. Even then, the fire brigade had to clean beaches from black poisonous grease. At the moment, Nord Stream 2 appears to have hoped to cover up similar incidents. According to the state environment ministry, the pipeline builder had found irregularities in a dredger that could lead to grease contamination. This was not reported to the responsible authorities but concealed. In addition, highly toxic chemicals are being used in the construction of the pipeline, which are harmful to human and marine animal health.
Since 2018, when the project started, the German Nature Conservation Association has been evaluating it critically. The route through five marine natural reserves leads to irreparable damage to the sensitive marine environment of the Baltic Sea. Typical habitats are endangered or have already completely disappeared – and without a real need, because in Germany there is no short- or long-term coverage gap for gas.
The battle with coal is not over yet – but we are already facing the next climate killer. Governments need to understand – we need action, not words. We demand Germany’s immediate withdrawal from the Nord Stream 2 project and instead more investment in sustainable projects.Stream 2 und stattdessen mehr Investition in die zukunftsfähigen Projekte.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is not only an extremely polluting project, it is also an example of the close relationship between the federal government and lobbyists in the natural gas industry.
A study by LobbyControl and Corporate Europe Observatory shows how the federal government regularly asserts the interests of corporations. For example, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has negotiated behind closed doors with the gas industry that natural gas should play an important role as a transition technology to renewable energy sources. When calculating the gas demand, the overestimated figures from Nord Stream 2 were used instead of the research commissioned by the federal government.
Germany supports Nord Stream 2 because Gazprom has excellent connections with the highest political circles. One of the prominent examples is former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is both chairman of the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream AG and chairman of the supervisory board of the Russian oil company Rosneft. Another case is Marion Scheller. The former head of the energy policy division at BMWi became the chief lobbyist at Nord Stream in September 2016.
So-called “dialogue process” Gas 2030, which was organized by the German Energy Agency Dena, took place completely behind closed doors in the first few months away. The meetings of corporate lobbyists and officials took place; not even the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety was invited. The independent study carried out on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency was not included in the dialogue process because it came to the conclusion that if the climate targets are met, gas demand will decrease. In addition, the “blue hydrogen” produced from fossil natural gas is described in the report of the dialogue process as CO2-neutral and recommended for use, including the risky CO2 capture and storage.
In my opinion, in the time of the climate crisis, we have an obligation to deal with such issues. The choices we make today will directly affect the future of our children. It is our responsibility to demand from politicians that such nature-destroying projects stop immediately! More decision-making power for scientists and people, less for lobbyists!
Cover: Ulrich Baumgarten, Getty Images