Global Affairs

Nord Stream 2: Security versus sustainability

Depending on where you look Nord Stream 2 is presented as a sustainable way to ensure European energy security for Russian intelligence collation and investigation through coercive investigation on buildings sites. With construction underway and Germany attempting to downplay criticism of the project, concerns over geopolitics remain. 

Energy security is necessary for a country’s development, population, production and consumption. However several points of potential conflict characterise major energy projects – from Indigenous rights, territorial claims, border disputes, emissions, environmental damage and population displacement, which are all priorities that need to be managed. 

Nord Stream 2, an underwater pipeline that would transport natural gas from Russia directly to Germany, measures 1,230 kilometres and is expected to follow the existing route of the Nord Stream twin pipeline under the Baltic Sea. The Biden administration has waived sanctions on the company developing this controversial pipeline, which had been implemented to pressure and obstruct the project. Reporting on Biden’s public address, CNN quotes Biden as stating, despite his opposition to the project “it was almost completed by the time I took office, [therefore] to go ahead and impose sanctions now would…be counterproductive in terms of European relations.” The State Department report on the pipeline argued that “close cooperation” with Germany, the European Union and other European countries will be critical for U.S. efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, promote a global economic recovery, fight climate change and address other challenges, including countering “malign behaviour by Russia and China.”

What is the history of Nord Stream 2?

In 2011, Nord Stream started assessing an expansion project consisting of two additional lines to increase the overall annual natural gas transport capacity, later coined Nord Stream 2. In 2012, the project applied to the Finnish and Estonian governments for route surveys in their underwater territory for the third and fourth lines. It was considered to divert the additional pipelines to the U.K. Still, this plan was abandoned with prominent protest and uproar against the possibility of widespread environmental damage and biodiversity degradation. In 2015, it was announced that Nord Stream 2 would be postponed as existing lines were running at half the capacity wanted due to E.U. restrictions and sanctions on Gazprom (the overseer company).

Nevertheless, later in 2015, Gazprom, Royal Dutch Shell, Engie and others signed an agreement to build Nord Stream 2.. In 2018, Germany granted Nord Stream 2 a permit for construction and operation in German waters and landfall areas near Lubmin. However, in 2019, the U.S. ambassador in Germany sent letters to companies involved in Nord Stream 2 urging them to stop working on the project and threatening the possibility of sanctions. In December later that year, the Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson also urged Allseas owner Edward Heerema to suspend the works on the pipeline, warning him that otherwise, the United States would impose sanctions.

In May 2020, the German energy regulator refused an exception from competition rules that require Nord Stream 2 to separate gas ownership from the transmission. In August 2020, Poland fined Gazprom due to the latter’s lack of cooperation with an investigation launched by UOKiK. This investigation was launched after suspicions that Gazprom had continued to work on the pipeline without permission from the government of Poland. In December, the Russian pipe layer ship Akademik Cherskiy initiated the works to complete the channel.

Debates and dilemmas

Germany finds itself in a precarious position. The country produces little energy domestically and is dependent on imports for the majority (98%) of its oil and almost all (92%) of its gas supply. It is rising in renewables having the world’s largest solar energy run plant installed in 2014. But with a slow transition towards renewables and green energy, Germany is still reliant on Russian supplies. Russia already supplied the plurality of its oil and gas as of 2015 (40% and 35%, respectively), so it was expected that plans to increase Russia’s presence would be met with hostility on both sides of the Atlantic. The core concern centres around Germany’s dependence on Russian energy, making it susceptible to exploitation and more vulnerable to interference. Germany, Europe’s biggest natural gas and energy consumer, has made efforts to downplay the relevance of Russian energy on the nation’s security.

The pipeline’s proposed route enters the territorial waters and exclusive economic zones of three other countries: Finland, Sweden and Denmark. National governments and local authorities benefit economically from investment and employment in the pipeline. However, politicians and strategic experts have raised issues related to European security. Most importantly, plans to allow Nord Stream 2 workers to use Swedish ports, including their main military base in Karlskrona, could provide Russia with the opportunity to gain intelligence and strategic information. Politicians such as Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz have warned that the pipeline gives Russia the pretence to increase their military presence in the Baltic Sea, possibly using it as a means to transmit information on the movements of naval vessels. Despite these concerns, Denmark remains the only country yet to approve construction through its waters. Yet even if the Danish were to reject construction in its territory, the pipeline would be altered to pass through another state’s waters as the whole sea is encompassed by various EEZs. In other words, Danish refusal would only delay the project, not kill it entirely.

There are fears that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will exacerbate European and Russian emissions. The sequestration of this gas, infrastructure building efforts and transportation will all produce  additional emissions that must be considered. The lands surrounding much of the pipeline harbour key tundra and grassland habitats that could provide opportunities for biodiversity restoration. The so-called capacity optimisation plan of Gazprom puts at risk the reduction of greenhouse emissions in the E.U. By the program, Gazprom means that after Nord Stream 2 is launched, it will liquidate most of the pipeline capacity at the Russian-Ukrainian border, creating a shortfall of gas within Central Europe. Renewable energy is supposed to be backed up by peak-load gas turbines. Still, without additional volumes of gas provided, there is a need for dirty coal as renewables are yet to be extensive enough to cover demand. With the highly flexible capacity of the Ukrainian system, renewables would have to be combined with coal-firing plants and fossil fuels throughout affected areas of Europe.

Under the Paris Agreement to halt climate change, ambitious emission reduction goals will have to be established every five years. If the E.U. takes its commitments seriously, its policy cannot end with closing coal-fired power plants. It will have to tackle the impact of gas. Nord Stream 2 risks locking in fossil fuel use for decades. An assessment of the Nord Stream 2 investment project does not consider the worsening climate crisis contributing to the growing wave of refugees.

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Mia Clement is a first year undergrad studying Geography at Christ Church college. They are an ardent climate activist promoting intersectional environmental protection and information across both OCS social media and @climatemia channels