Friday

24th Jan 2020

Investigation

Polish NGO pits porpoises vs Russia's Nord Stream 2

  • Allseas' Pioneering Spirit, a pipe-laying vessel, is the heaviest ship in the world (Photo: nord-stream2.com)

A lone Polish NGO has objected to Denmark's permit for Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany - but neither that nor a new threat of US sanctions are likely to stop the juggernaut.

The Krakow-based Polish Ecological Club filed its complaint with the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) in late November as the deadline for appeals ran out.

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  • Getting old chemical munitions out of the way, including via detonations, could harm wildlife and even cause mutations in cod (Photo: nord-stream2.com)

Its five-page letter, obtained by EUobserver via a freedom of information request, said the DEA was wrong to let the pipeline use a route variant which might disturb endangered species, as well as World War 2-era chemical weapons on the seabed.

"For all the reasons set out above ... the Polish Ecological Club believes that the permit should not be granted," it said.

Denmark's permit, issued on 30 October, concerned a 147km section of the pipeline that is to run through its waters near the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea.

It was the last piece of the puzzle after Finland, Sweden, Germany and Russia had already given the green light for the other 1,050 km.

But the Polish objection says Denmark violated an EU law on habitat protection concerning the harbour porpoise, an endangered species in the region.

It said Denmark gave "incomplete ... vague and contradictory" responses to other ecological questions, often relying on promises given by the Russian firm building the project, the Swiss-based Nord Stream 2 consortium.

It failed to account for the consortium's admission it might have to detonate some of the WW2-era munitions if it found them in awkward places.

The ammunition, dumped by the Nazis and the Soviet Union, includes mustard gas, which could cause mutations in the cod which spawn there.

And Denmark's figures on the seabird population in the region were also "clumsy" and out of date, the Polish NGO said.

"The abundance of a key species [the Velvet Scoter], threatened globally, is underestimated 1,000 times" in the Danish studies, the NGO said.

The DEA confirmed it had "only received one appeal regarding the [Nord Stream 2] permit".

"The next step in the Danish Energy Board of Appeal's processing of the complaint is that the parties of the case will be given the opportunity to submit their comments, before the board of appeal makes a decision," it told this website.

That decision might take until mid-2021, the DEA added, and the mere fact the Polish complaint hung in the air did "not have a suspensory effect" on pipeline construction, it said.

For its part, Russia expects Swiss engineering firm Allseas to lay the final pipes in the next few months and for Nord Stream 2 to start operations in mid-2020, creating a fait accompli before Denmark decides on the Polish appeal.

Geopolitics

The NGO's worries about porpoises aside, Poland, several other EU states, and the US have also voiced strategic concern about the project.

Nord Stream 2 is to concentrate 80 percent of Russian gas exports to the EU along the German route, helping the Kremlin to cut off pro-Western countries, including Ukraine, in future.

The US had in the past threatened to fine the five EU firms helping Russia to finance the €10bn investment.

But in the end, it opted to threaten just Allseas instead, saying people and entities involved in the physical construction could face US asset freezes and visa bans.

The mini-sanctions are to enter into force after US president Donald Trump signs them in a move expected next week.

But they include a 90-day cooling-off period, meaning Allseas would get off the hook if it managed to lay the 147-km Danish segment by the end of March.

And a Russian vessel, the Academician Chersky, is ready to take its place even if the US sanctions did bite before Allseas was done.

For their part, German leaders also showed little sign of backing down this week, making Nord Stream 2 look more like a done deal.

Net result

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister Heiko Maas both told Trump to mind his own business.

"European energy policy must be decided in Europe, not the US. We fundamentally reject outside intervention and sanctions with extraterritorial effect," Maas told the Bloomberg news agency on Thursday.

And that meant the net result of the Trump sanctions might be just another row between Berlin and Washington, while Moscow did what it wanted.

America's Nord Stream 2 bill "pits the US against Germany" rather than the Kremlin, and "that is a bad outcome and I am eager to avoid it," Dan Fried, a former US diplomat, said at a meeting of the Atlantic Council, a think-tank in Washington, on Thursday.

But "that doesn't mean that the Germans are the problem," Fried added.

"The Kremlin is the problem. It is their aggression and their use of energy as a coercive tool" that made Nord Stream 2 so dangerous, he said.

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