Pipeline consortium Nord Stream has come under fire after it was revealed that it planned to use hazardous chemicals and dump them into the Baltic Sea
Since its inception, Nord Stream -- the company planning to build a natural gas pipeline underneath the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany -- has shown a remarkable inability to make friends. Poland is furious about being bypassed. Estonia and Lithuania are both concerned about the security of their energy supply. And Sweden has even voiced concern that the pipeline might give the Russian navy an excuse to patrol Baltic Sea waters.
But a brouhaha this weekend shows that the pipeline consortium, with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder sitting on the board of directors, hasn't gotten much better when it comes to public relations. A report in SPIEGEL magazine on Saturday revealed that the company was planning on rinsing out the pipeline with 2.3 billion liters of a solution containing glutaraldehyde, a hazardous chemical often used as an anti-bacterial. The option called for the solution to be pumped directly into the already polluted Baltic Sea when the procedure was finished.
The idea came to light after a Green member of German parliament sent a formal query to the German government. In response, the government indicated that it was aware of such plans.
Nord Stream -- whose Web site claims that the company "is fully committed to preserving the Baltic Sea environment" -- spent the weekend insisting that, while it had indeed considered using glutaraldehyde, further study has shown that the dangerous chemical would not have to be employed. A statement on the company Web site says that, even had the chemical been used, the effects would have been brief and localized due to the speed with which the chemical breaks down once it comes in contact with water.
Still, the episode will likely do little to slow down a growing wave of criticism from Sweden. The project consortium, led by Russian gas giant Gazprom and joined by German companies E.on and BASF, filed a permit application with the Swedish government in the middle of February -- part of the process of getting construction permits from countries through whose waters the pipeline will run. The Swedish government immediately sent it back with a long list of points that need to be expanded on.
"It is a bit surprising that the application was so incomplete," said the Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren.
For Sweden, the central problem is that of a Russian pipeline running so close to its coast. In addition to concerns of Russian naval activity -- which stem from a 1981 Cold War crisis involving a Soviet submarine running aground near a Swedish naval base -- many have voiced worries that the pipeline could even be used for spying on Sweden.
"The project will only cause trouble," Robert Larsson, a security analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, told SPIEGEL ONLINE in a late-2006 interview. "Sweden has nothing to gain from it."
But many of the concerns center on the possible environmental impact of the pipeline. The floor of the Baltic Sea is littered with discarded World War II munitions and dumped chemicals -- including 23,000 barrels of mercury found in a Swedish bay in 2006. Environmentalists are concerned that barrels of toxic waste or munitions could be ruptured during construction, creating an environmental disaster for the Baltic.
Sweden, for its part, has said that it won't even begin reviewing the project until all the paperwork has been filed. Already, the pipeline consortium has pushed back its projected completion date from 2009 to 2010.