HELSINKI Finland insists the Nord Stream consortium conduct a thorough environmental impact study of an alternative, southern route for its planned gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, the environment ministry said on Monday.
Nord Stream, majority owned by Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom, plans to start building the 1,200 km (750 mile) long gas pipeline from Russia to Germany in mid-2009 and begin deliveries in early 2011.
While the consortium aims to route the link through the Finnish economic zone of the Baltic Sea, environmentalists have been campaigning for it to consider the more southern route, saying the sea bed is flatter and would need less work and therefore less disruption to waste littered on the sea bed.
In comments sent to authorities in Denmark, Germany, Russia and Sweden, the ministry said: "This (a broader study of the alternatives) would ensure that sufficient material on the environmental impacts is available for decision-making and that the environment is taken into account."
The ministry said Nord Stream had told it in December that it did not plan to carry out an environmental impact assessment for the southern route, which goes around the Russian island of Gogland.
The consortium has already said environmental demands from countries around the Baltic Sea, some of which have doubts about the project, could push up the costs of the scheme.
"We will take all feedback into consideration," Nord Stream spokesman Sebastian Sass told Reuters, adding the firm had examined the southern route but had not found a suitable passage for the pipeline.
Russia is planning a conservation area near Gogland and there already are subsea cables there, while it is a main route for ships and therefore unsuitable, Nord Stream says.
The Nord Stream consortium, apart from Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom, which owns 51 percent, involves German firms BASF and E.ON, with 20 percent each, and Dutch pipeline operator Gasunie with 9 percent.
Two pipelines are planned, each with annual capacity of 27.5 billion cubic meters, one starting up in 2011 and one in 2012.
Nord Stream is expected to be able to cover more than a quarter of Europe's incremental gas demand.
(Reporting by Terhi Kinnunen, editing by Anthony Barker)