* Project won final approval by Finland
* First gas to flow in 2011
* Russia tightens its grip on European gas market
(Adds Russian PM comments on construction schedule, consortium
HELSINKI/MOSCOW, Feb 12 Finnish environmental
authorities approved construction of the Nord Stream gas
pipeline through Finland's waters, clearing the last hurdle for
Russia to start its biggest post-Soviet gas pipeline in April.
The Finnish government gave its blessing in November for the
pipeline to be built in its waters, leaving just the decision
from the environmental authorities.
"The Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern
Finland granted permission to commence work before the decision
is due to enter into force," the Finnish environmental
authorities said in a statement on Friday.
Russia's differences with Ukraine, the main transit route
for Russian gas, led Moscow to propose two pipelines, the Nord
Stream and South Stream, running north and south of the EU bloc,
which would bypass transit states entirely.
Nord Stream, a project involving Gazprom (GAZP.MM),
Germany's BASF BASF.F and E.ON (EONGn.DE) as well as Dutch
firm Gasunie, plans to transport up to 55 billion cubic metres
of gas per year from Russia to Germany when completed in 2012.
"The consortium plans to start construction in April 2010 as
it has also already received all the permits required by the
four other countries through whose territorial waters...the
pipeline will pass," Nord Stream consortium said in a statement.
For Nord Stream two parallel pipelines would together carry
gas over 1,200 km (750 miles) from Vyborg in Russia to
Greifswald in Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The first leg will carry 27.5 bcm starting from 2011. The
link will cross the waters of Russia, Sweden, Denmark and
Germany as well as Finland.
"This is the culmination of four years of intensive studies,
consultations and dialogue with the authorities, experts,
stakeholders and the public in Finland and other countries
through the Baltic Sea region," Nord Stream Managing Director
Matthias Warnigwas quoted by the consortium as saying.
Warnig is a former German intelligence officer and an
acquaintance of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
On Friday Putin said the gas should start to flow from Nord
Stream in September 2011.
"In May 2011, the (construction) works should be finished on
sea and on territory of Germany and Russian Federation. As early
as September, the gas will flow through it," he was quoted as
saying by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
The approval marks a major step forward for Russia's plans
to diversify its energy export routes to Europe, but some
analysts say the pipeline is too expensive and could face delays
due to the economic downturn and lower demand for the fuel.
Russia is also pushing forward with the South Stream project
aimed at supplying gas to the south of Europe from the Caspian
Sea region and bypassing transit states, such as Ukraine.
In January 2009, Russian gas supplies to Europe came to a
halt for almost two weeks as Moscow and Kiev rowed over prices
and transit terms. Most of Russian gas deliveries to Europe
passes through Ukraine.
The Nord Stream approval came as a reprieve for Gazprom,
which had to delay the start of its giant Arctic Shtokman gas
field - one of the resource bases for the link - by three years
to 2016 due to a slump in gas demand. [ID:nLDE6141ZH]
The Nord Stream consortium said on Monday its initial
schedule for commissioning the pipeline remained intact despite
the Shtokman delay.
A consortium spokeswoman said the gas for the link will be
"supplied by the entire Russian gas system". [ID:nLDE6171NK]
For a graphic of Europe imports of Russian gas, click on:
For a factbox on Nord Stream, click on [ID:nLDE61B06H]
(Reporting by Brett Young and Terhi Kinnunen in Helsinki and
Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Michael Urquhart and