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Grigory Pasko: Traveling the Nord Stream, Part XI

Land at 50 Euros a Hectare The environmental aspects of the Nord Stream gas pipeline By Grigory Pasko, journalist Representatives of Nord Stream assure the public that nature-protection measures have been provided for, both at the stage of construction and in the process of operation of the pipeline, including: – maximum reduction in the width of the construction right-of-way; – technical and biological recultivation of disturbed lands; – elaboration and fulfillment of a program of compensational measures to redress damage to the environment; – conducting of broad-scale ecological monitoring. Let’s take a closer look at these promises. On the photographs that I took during the time of my on-site visits to Vologda and Leningrad Oblasts (see the first articles in this series), you can see that the width of the construction right-of-way of the land portion of the pipeline has pretty decent sizes – up to 50 meters and more. And it’s doubtful that the builders – precisely out of technical considerations, including the concept of safe functioning of the whole operation – will agree to a significant narrowing of this band. Recultivation of disturbed lands, perhaps, is being carried out – someplace. But in Babayevo Rayon of Vologda Oblast’, for example, nobody had even heard of it. No doubt certain problems of an ecological character will arise as well during the organization of the crossings of such waterways as the Sheksna River (Vologda Oblast) and the Volkhov and Neva Rivers and the Saimensky Canal (Leningrad Oblast). A strip of forest around 500 kilometers long and 45-50 meters wide is going to have to be destroyed in order to prepare the right-of-way on the territory of Leningrad Oblast. The pipeline will certainly disturb the soil cover; agricultural lands will have to be taken out of cultivation. On the territory of Leningrad Oblast, the pipeline’s right-of-way will have to cross 40 automobile roads and 17 railroad tracks, and is laid in ledge rock in a 100 kilometer stretch. These are all known facts. But the corporation Nord Stream has yet to present the broad public with an ecological picture of the impact of these facts on the environment, other than talk about how “everything will be taken into account”. And now about the compensational measures. It looks like they’ll be limited to sweeping up the mess along the construction right-of-way and not much else. Here’s an example. Public hearings took place in Tikhvin last year based on the materials of an environmental impact assessment of the construction of the first and second phases of the North European Gas Pipeline. The organizers of the hearings spoke a lot about complying with ecological legislation. But when a concrete question was asked about the sum of the compensational payments to Tikhvin Rayon, the customers and authors of the project said that for now there are no such data. Later, certain data nevertheless were found. Thus, 336.5 hectares of land will be diverted in Tikhvin Rayon for the construction of the pipeline, while it is being planned that the budget will receive compensational payments of 495089 thousand rubles. In other words, for every hectare of land taken out of cultivation, Tikhvinites will get less than 1500 rubles – around 50 euros. (For comparison: in Moscow Oblast, the cost of buying a right to land comprises 250 thousands dollars per hectare. Even in Bolivia, a hectare of land costs 300 dollars). Nor was there much of anything said about monitoring. In Gryazovets they said that an ecological laboratory would be created. More frequently mentioned in connection with monitoring are studies of the bottom of the Baltic Sea, which the Russian Baltic Fleet is supposedly engaged in. (I know all about how the Russian Navy engages in environmental safety from personal experience, when I wrote articles about the secret dumping of the Pacific Fleet’s radioactive waste in the Sea of Japan—G.P.) [Grigory Pasko spent 3 years in jail for his efforts—Editor] Nevertheless, monitoring of the entire construction of the NEGP is vitally necessary. The undersea portion of the North-European Gas Pipeline has been cause for concern, no doubt justified, by the countries of the Baltic region and in particular the ecologists. It is known that the overall length of the undersea portion of the NEGP (from Portovaya Bay of Vyborg Rayon in Russia to the German coast in the vicinity of the town of Lubmin) will comprise 1198 kilometers. The designing of the undersea part of the pipeline is prescribed according to the norms of the Norwegian classificational society DNV, which is used in the world practice of the construction of undersea gas pipelines.

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Photo of the beach near Lubmin where the gas pipeline will arrive by Grigory Pasko

Nord Stream will pass through the exclusive economic zones of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, as well as through the territorial waters of Russia and Germany. These states, with the exception of Russia, are defined as “parties of origin” within the framework of the Espoo Convention. Russia has signed this convention but not ratified it; at the same time, Russia will appear as a “party of origin” to the extent that this is possible in consideration of national legislation. Representatives of the NEGP continually pronounce one and the same mantra, that in accordance with the Espoo Convention, the stages of the environmental impact assessment process in a transboundary context include, in addition the submission of a notification of the project (already done, it seems), consultations with competent organs and the broad public, as well as the preparation of an environmental impact assessment program and report, field research on the basis of Helcom data with the aim of studying the marine environment of the Baltic Sea including flora, fauna, the composition of the water, and seabed sediments along the route of the gas pipeline. It is planned that the work on preparing the environmental impact assessment report will be finished in the autumn of the year 2007. The builders of the NEGP plan to receive final approval of the environmental impact assessment at the beginning of the year 2008. Representatives of Gazprom insist that a survey of the bottom of the Baltic Sea for the entire length of the future pipeline with a strip width of 2 kilometers has already been carried out and that those places that need to be gone around have already been identified – this is sunken ships, fallen airplanes, trawl nets, large fishing tackle. It is tacitly implied that the right-of-way of the gas pipeline will not come anywhere near these. The project documentation says that there is a “conflict” between military training zones and the planned route of the NEGP off the coast of the island of Rügen in Germany and to the east of the Danish island of Bornholm. As is said in the Nord Stream project documentation, in the years 1947 and 1948, at the instruction of the allies, nearly 11000 tons of chemical weapons were buried to the east of Bornholm, 1000 tons adjacent to Gotland. We’re talking here about poisonous gases and phosgene that had been placed in medium caliber shells, about aerial bombs, as well as “containers” or “barrels”. In Greifswald I met with representatives of Greenpeace, the «Green» party, and the non-governmental organization BUND. They named different aspects of the construction of the NEGP that concern them. It is noteworthy that the chemical weapons turned out not to be on the priority list. The problems named were associated with the construction of a gas storage facility in the area of an industrial center near Lubin, the cutting down of forests, the disturbance of the soil cover, industrial fishing and others. But on the whole, the ecologists noted, they are not against the construction of the gas pipeline.

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(L-R) «Greenpeace» member Katrin Ganswindt, Greifswald «Green» party leader Luc Leippold, University of Greifswald faculty member and member of the BUND Dr. Ralf Doring. Photo by Grigory Pasko.

Noteworthy in connection with this is the opinion of Yevgeni Schwartz, head of the Russian branch of the WWF. He noted that construction of the NEGP along the bottom of the Baltic Sea is even useful from the point of view of resolving the problem with the submerged chemical weapons, inasmuch as it could bring the attention of the authorities of the region to this problem. I must admit that this seems to be the weakest argument in the ecologists’ reasoning to me. Here’s an example. For decades the ecologists have been “bringing the attention” of the Russian authorities to Lake Baikal, but a pulp-and-paper mill has continued to operate on its shore, and continues to operate to this day. And even the decision to bypass Lake Baikal during construction of the Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean oil pipeline, in my opinion, is more an example of the authoritarianism of president Putin than of the effectiveness of the actions of the ecologists. Additional evidence that the ecological state of the Baltic Sea will not suffer, in the opinion of the designers, is that modern metallurgical technologies, high-tensile steels, pipes with enhanced anti-corrosion insulation, and so forth will be used during the course of construction. They cite the experience of the operation of undersea pipelines: for example, over a 30-year period of pipeline operations in the waters of the North Sea, the companies Statoil and Norsk Hydro not only haven’t had a single accident, they haven’t even had any breakdowns. How can one not recall here the assurances of the designers and operators about the safety of the reactors at Chernobyl? It is said, after all, that a gun can go off one time on its own.

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Photo of the Baltic Sea by Grigory Pasko

Of course, it is good to hear that the company Nord Stream is attentive to the concerns and recommendations of the countries of the Baltic Region and is obligating itself to ensure the compliance of the new pipeline with high ecological standards. It would be even better if the company would adopt such decisions in the case with the construction of the pipeline along Russian territory as well. It is assumed that the result of all the studies with respect to all queries received will become a report about an environmental expert study, which «Gazprom» and its companions plan to submit in the beginning of the autumn of 2007. Okay, I guess we’ll wait for the report to appear. Perhaps it will contain answers to all the questions that interest society.