Clearing a path for Nord Stream

A risky underwater operation underway in the Gulf of Finland is aimed at clearing the sea bed of old mines from past wars, in order to free the path for the Nord Stream pipeline, carrying gas from Russia to Europe.

The operation is classified. No journalists or onlookers are allowed to see at close range how the clearance operation is being conducted. The reason for such security is the potentially high risks that the operation brings with it.

Experts hired by Nord Stream are disposing of unexploded ordnance in the secure a corridor that will link directly Russia and Western Europe.

So far, the project has required the disposal of 28 unexploded munitions.

As one of the theaters of the two world wars, the Baltic Sea still has plenty of live mines.

“The overall weight of one mine, including its sinker when fitted, can be in the region of 700 kilos. These mines were designed by the German navy and deployed during the Second World War. This kind of mine is about a meter in diameter and would have contained 250 kg of high explosive," says Adrian Dann from Bactec, Nord Stream contractor.

The current engineering task marks a very important step for the Nord Stream gas pipeline project, because it has carried out years of extensive environmental studies and close dialogues with the authorities of the countries whose waters the pipeline will pass through.

Sebastian Saas, Head of Nord Stream EU Representation says that the emphasis around the pipeline – the design and the whole process – has been on the environment all the time. "The idea is that the pipeline and the construction will be adapted to the environment and not the other way round," Saas told RT. "We’ve had 16 multilateral meetings. We’ve invested more than 100 million euros in the most comprehensive environmental study of the Baltic Sea ever.”

The operation will be monitored by hundreds of environmentalists.

The seabed clearance plan has been thoroughly developed. It has required more than 40,000 kilometers of geophysical and gradiometer service being carried out. Items as small as paint cans have been detected, and some 15,000 items like this have been closely inspected.

There had been a good deal of controversy before Finland and Sweden granted permits to the Nord Stream project, because two thirds of the length of the pipeline will pass through Swedish and Finnish economic zone waters. Denmark was the first country that granted a construction permit to the Nord Stream company. So, with three permits now granted, Nord Stream is now one step from the start of the construction, which is due to start next spring.

There are now two countries left where the permitting process is concerned, that is Russia and Germany, and it is believed these two, as initiators of the project, will not delay it. 51% of Nord Stream AG is controlled by Russian gas giant Gazprom and two German companies, Wintershall (a subdivision of BASF) and E.ON Ruhrgas (a subdivision of E.ON) have equal shares of 20% each. The remaining 9% is distributed between Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

Both the EU and Russia are interested in the prompt construction of the pipeline, primarily because it will deliver Russian gas directly to millions of European consumers without transit countries involved. This will mean energy security in the long run. Secondly, the project will bridge the gap towards using renewable energy sources for 27 countries of the European Union by replacing coal with gas, which would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 200 million tons per year – more than is currently emitted by all four Scandinavian countries and the three Baltic states put together.