Whither Nord Stream 2?

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Whither Nord Stream 2?

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 07:48
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The German landfall in Lubmin, March 2020 (copyright by Nord Stream 2)
The German landfall in Lubmin, March 2020 (copyright by Nord Stream 2)

The saga of Nord Stream 2 continues without end. As reported earlier in these pages, the subsea pipeline running parallel along the floor of the Baltic Sea to the original Nord Stream 1 is a mere 150-km from its goal in Greifswald. Yet the last few kilometers are filled with political, legal and technical minefields that could plausibly preclude gas from flowing at all.

Recap

The Americans have long argued that the construction of a second Nord Stream would make Germany too dependent on Russia for natural gas and thus vulnerable to political exploitation. This was especially the case during the Obama administration.  Pundits expected a change of tone if not policy with the incoming Trump administration in 2016. Yet it was the Trump administration that levied onerous sanctions on Nord Stream 2, effectively stopping the pipeline in its tracks and forcing heretofore vendors to abandon the project, like Swiss company Allseas Group, which had been constructing the pipeline in the Baltic.  Russian president Vladimir Putin maintained Gazprom would use its own pipe laying ship, the Akademik Cherskiy and the ship made its way from the Far East around the southern tip of Africa to the North Sea.

Current Status

The German Bundestag has adopted and codified into German law EU guidelines affecting the construction and operation of subsea pipelines in Germany's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEC).  Relevant for Nord Stream 2 is the directive that pipelines from a third country are subject to German law, at least that part of the pipeline in German territorial waters. This means that the entity that supplies the gas cannot operate the gas pipeline at the same time. The Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railway (die Bundesnetzagentur) in Berlin also said that the pipeline must offer non-prejudicial entry to third parties, meaning users of the pipeline other than the Russian proprietor Gazprom.

The German authority's refusal to grant Gazprom an exemption from the EU Directive does not necessarily mean the end of Nord Stream 2. If another proprieitor could be found the rest of the pipeline could be built and Nord Stream 2 could begin to work.  To this end Gazprom has begun discussions with Rosneft, a prominent Russian energy giant, to gauge its interest in taking over the project.

The Akademik Cherskiy arrived on 12 May in the Sassnitz-Mukran harbor on Rügen island, where the Nord Stream 2 logistic center is located. .  It's Gazprom's only pipelaying ship that has a dynamic positioning system (DPS). The Akademik Cherskiy is coupling with the Russian crane ship Fortuna, as this is equipped with the necessary pipe welding tools. Together, says Gazprom, these two ships will finish the last 150-km of the Nord Stream 2 construction.

Outlook

If it were only that simple:  the two ships will have to begin their work very soon, if they do not want to get tangled up in a blocked period of time when no work will be allowed in the area.  This is because the eastern part of the Baltic Sea will be closed for July and August, in order to allow the regional cod time to spawn.  But the work cannot begin since Gazprom does not have permission from Copenhagen for the Fortuna to operate in the Baltic.  According to Danish law, a DPS is mandatory on the Fortuna, something it does not possess.  It does its work with the help of 12 anchors.  The anchors could potentially trigger unexploded bombs from the Second World War, and this is presently occupying a circle of concerned Danish cognoscenti. 

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