HELSINKI Environmental concerns in Finland over
the Nord Stream consortium's plans to build a gas pipeline
under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany could cause months
or even years of delay to the project, officials said.
Nord Stream, majority owned by Russian gas export monopoly
Gazprom, plans to start building the 1,200 km (750 mile)
pipeline in mid-2009 and begin deliveries in early 2011.
But environmental organizations in Finland said an
environmental permit would come at the earliest in 2009 and
possible appeals could mean delays to the start of gas flows.
While Nord Stream plans to route the link through the
Finnish economic zone of the Baltic Sea, environmental campaign
groups say they will go to court to make the company fully
examine an alternative, southern route that may cause less
Nord Stream plans to hand in an environmental impact
assessment to the Finnish Uusimaa region environmental centre
in April and the centre is expected to report four months
The firm also needs permits from the Finnish government and
the Western Finland Permit Authority to build in the zone and
aims to apply soon after submitting the impact assessment.
An official at the authority said processing the
application was likely to take eight to 14 months but, if the
decision went to court in Finland, it could take more months or
On average, environmental cases took 14 months in Finland's
administrative courts last year and almost 10 months in the
supreme administrative court.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Finnish Association
for Nature Conservation said they feared that decisions might
be hurried without due regard for the impact on the Baltic Sea.
Nord Stream is expected to be able to cover more than a
quarter of Europe's incremental gas demand.
HUGE POLITICAL PRESSURE
"There is a huge political pressure to build the pipe, it
is likely that decisions will be made fast without thinking too
much," the association's spokesman Matti Nieminen said.
While countries including Poland, Sweden and the Baltic
states have raised concerns over the project's environmental
and security impacts, Finland's cabinet has supported the
But Foreign minister Ilkka Kanerva said the environmental
assessment should not be considered a pure formality.
"If it (the pipeline) creates problems, those have to be
solved," he told Reuters this month.
WWF said it might file a court case against Nord Stream if
the company did not make a proper environmental assessment for
a potential alternative route on the southern side of the
Russian island of Gogland, more than 50 km south of Finnish
"The environmental assessment process requires that all
possible alternatives are investigated to find the one that has
the smallest possible impact," said Anita Makinen, head of WWF
Finland's marine program.
Nord Stream spokesman Sebastian Sass said it had examined
the southern route, but had not found a suitable passage.
He said Russia was planning a conservation area near
Gogland and that there were already subsea cables there, while
it was a main route for ships and therefore unsuitable.
"Our point of view is that our applications will stand any
examination," Sass said.
But environmental groups said less disruption would be
caused to the fragile ecosystem by using the southern route, as
the sea bed was flatter and would need less work and disruption
to waste, including dioxin, around the sea bed.
"If the sea bed (in the Finnish economic zone) was covered
with rock material, it would kill plants and could move
hazardous waste piled up on the sea bed," said WWF's Makinen.
The Nord Stream consortium is owned by Gazprom, with 51
percent, 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
(Reporting by Terhi Kinnunen, additional reporting by Tarmo
Virki, editing by Anthony Barker)