Another step has been taken to implement the most important for the Russian economy project - the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline. Germany issued one of the key permits that are important for its laying. But this stage can not be called final. What other steps, apart from purely technical ones, is it necessary to pass through to Gazprom so that the project really begins to work?
On Wednesday, Germany received permission to lay the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline in its territorial waters. "This is a key decision that already opens the opportunity to start the construction of the most important section of the new offshore gas pipeline Nord Stream - 2 in the territorial waters of Germany and the shore receiving terminal in Greifswald," Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said.
This is the permission for the construction of the 55-kilometer section of the gas pipeline and the land section in the Lubmin area near Greifswald. It was issued by the Stralsund Mining Office of the company - operator of the Nord Stream 2 AG project. However, this is by no means the only solution that the operator of the future gas pipeline should receive.
What obstacles stand in the way of the construction of the Nord Stream - 2?
First, the Germany has not yet issued all the necessary permits. "In the issued permit, it is a question of the terminal and the continental shelf, butfrom Germany will require another permit from another agency - for construction in the exclusive economic maritime zone farther 15 miles to Danish waters"- says deputy director of the National Energy Security Fund Alexei Grivach. However, Germany is unlikely to expect surprises, and certainly such a permission will be received.
Secondly, the corresponding permits for the construction of pipes in the territorial waters of Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Russia must be issued.Gazprom expects to receive all these permits in the first quarter of 2018 and already begin construction of the pipeline in order to complete it by the end of 2019. Already by the end of the year 2017, contracts were signed for all the basic materials, equipment and services needed to perform construction work. More than half of the required pipes have already been manufactured.
"On the idea of problems with these permits should not be, because" the North Stream - 2 "almost completely repeats the route of the" Northern Stream - 1 ", to which all permits were issued, which has already been built and operates in accordance with all legal norms, - says Alexey Grivach.
The risks of policy intervention in the Nord Stream-2 case exist except in the case of Denmark. The pipeline must cross the territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone of Denmark on a stretch of 139 km and pass by the island of Bornholm. The application for a construction permit for the pipe and a report on the potential impact of the project on the environment were handed over to the Danish Energy Agency back in April 2017.
The approval authorization is under the authority of the Danish Energy Agency and it can reject the request only on the basis of environmental considerations. However, due to US pressure, the procedure for approving the construction of the pipe was changed retroactively. Now the construction of the pipeline should be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. The department has the opportunity to refuse, explaining its decision foreign policy interests and security considerations. And the mood of Danish politicians is not in favor of the Russian project.
Therefore, the gas pipeline operator has already worked on this case an alternative route bypassing Denmark. It will be longer at 10 km, but on the scale of the total length of the gas pipeline in 1200 km this is a minor increase.
No one expects surprises from Sweden and Finland. In Finland, the decision to permit construction in the exclusive economic zone requires the consent of the Government of Finland. And the Prime Minister of the country said that for him the main issues are ecology and economy. For environmental reasons, there can be no refusal: the procedure for environmental impact assessment (EIA) was carried out and all satisfied.
A similar situation is in Sweden - but with one peculiarity. The only thing, in the summer of 2017, the municipality of Solvesborg and the district administration of Blekinge province in the south of Sweden applied to the government of the country with additional requirements for Nord Stream 2 AG. They asked before the start of the gas pipeline in the economic zone of Sweden to submit a plan for the release in the future of the seabed from paved pipes. In the project "Nord Stream - 2" there is no such item, because the issue of dismantling will arise only after the life of the gas pipeline has expired (this is not very soon). It would not have been terrible if it had not been for the requirement to make these changes before the construction began. Will Gazprom succeed in making additions in time and will there be new unexpected demands from the Swedes? It is unlikely, but nothing can be ruled out.
"Under the current legislation, permits should be obtained, unless, of course, there is a rude political interference," Grivach said.
Third, another problem is purely political, but no less important. Namely - the attempts of the European Commission, with the support of the United States, Poland and a number of other countries, to drive the Nord Stream-2 into the framework of EU legislation. EC in November drafted amendments to the EU gas directive. According to them, the operation of the Third Energy Package should extend to all gas pipelines that enter the EU gas market from third countries.
Now "Nord Stream - 2" does not fall under the provisions of the Third Energy Package, as it does not pass through the territory of the EU. If the EC gets its way, then Gazprom can not be the sole owner and manager of the Nord Stream - 2. Plus, this pipe will have to pump gas from independent producers from Gazprom. Given the huge investment in this project, the need to give it into the wrong hands is clearly not going to please Russia. After all, it is those who built, should repel investments, and not someone else who came to everything ready.
"This leads to long-term litigation. Our opponents will be satisfied, because they do not have the task of making the gas pipeline or its management better. It's about stopping the project, at least, and better closing it, "says Alexei Grivach.
Probably, Gazprom will win in these litigation, but there will not be normal operation of the "Nord Stream" - 2, until the court makes a decision. And this can take several years. However, these risks are not for the beginning of the construction of the pipe, but already with its operation.