Nord Stream II: geopolitical and environmental hazard


September 19, 2021

While much of the controversy surrounding the construction of the 1,224 km Nord Stream 2 pipeline has revolved around geopolitical concerns, its environmental implications have been at best underestimated and at worst explicitly ignored.

Owned by the famous Russian energy company Gazprom, Nord Stream 2 will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, alongside the existing Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline corresponding to its export capacity. Over the past decade, it has been one of the most controversial projects internationally approved by the German state: the United States has relentlessly opposed its construction in all jurisdictions, fearing increased dependence. of the EU with regard to Russian energy sources. However, the environmental impact of the project was largely lost in the geopolitical melee.

Since the pipeline has already been built (it was completed construction in early September), there is no need to dwell on the habitat disruption the pipeline development has caused to the fragile marine ecosystems of the Baltic Sea. However, what remains at stake in terms of climate is the role that this gas pipeline will play in the German – and generally European – transition to clean energy.

Nord Stream 2 will double the EU’s natural gas imports from Russia, increasing Nord Stream’s annual delivery capacity from 55 billion to 110 billion cubic meters. These figures are quite unfathomable on their own: to put them in perspective, 55 billion cubic meters are enough to supply Sweden for 55 years (depending on its level of consumption in 2020).

Meanwhile, the German state has set a goal of becoming climate neutral by 2045 – a goal that will require ending dependence on nuclear power sources and coal (set for 2022 and 2038, respectively. ). The fact that the German state is in the process of finalizing its approval for another fossil gas pipeline suggests some ambiguity about its intentions to follow through on its environmental commitments.

While proponents have argued that natural gas should be seen as a transitional energy source needed to pivot towards a clean energy future, the lead energy expert at the German Institute for Economic Research described Nord Stream 2 as “unnecessary” and “commercially ineffective”.

Although natural gas production emits less carbon than other fossil fuels like coal, Nord Stream 2 is still a step in the wrong direction: the pipeline is expected to emit at least 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year ( not to mention the environmental damage caused by methane), which probably puts Germany’s emission reduction targets out of reach.

Construction of the pipeline is complete – that’s clear – however, there are still a few hurdles to overcome before natural gas begins to flow through its metal veins: EU energy regulations and German certification.

Gazprom is appealing a recent court ruling that subjects the company to EU regulations regarding the separation of ownership between producers, carriers and distributors of natural gas. While this issue will be settled in court, the question of whether Germany will certify Nord Stream 2 will likely be settled at the polls in the German federal election on September 26.

While Angela Merkel of the CDU defended the project during her chancellery, the German Green Party has pledged to stop the pipeline if it comes to power.

Image by Robson machado

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