EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs has defended controversial plans to build a gas pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea, connecting Russia and Germany, amid growing environmental concerns over the project, according to EUobserver.
"Nord Stream is definitely a project of European interest", Mr Piebalgs said on Tuesday (29 January), adding that it "would enhance the EU`s security of supply bringing additional gas through a new route."
The commissioner was speaking at a public hearing organised by the European Parliament in response to concerns over the pipeline`s impact on the Baltic Sea.
According to Krzysztof Maczkowski, a Polish national and a petitioner campaigning for a land alternative, the proposed natural gas pipeline could disturb WWII chemical weapons dumped in the Baltic Sea and endanger public health as well as flora and fauna in all coastal states in the region.
Radvile Morkunaite, a Lithuanian citizen representing non-governmental activists, urged the EU to "take responsibility" and guarantee that there be an independent analysis of Nord Stream`s effect on the environment.
EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said the project should respect all the environmental rules set out by the bloc`s body of law.
Mr Piebalgs agreed that the environmental impact of this project must be thoroughly assessed, saying it was "probably the most important issue today."
But at the same time, he pointed to a number of advantages that the project could deliver, such as its capability to address the union`s energy needs.
"I certainly hope that the project will be judged to meet the required environmental conditions so we can continue working together to ensure the key infrastructures for securing our supply in the decades to come," said the commissioner, who hails from Baltic state Latvia.
Two percent annual rise in gas consumption
According to commission data, gas consumption in the EU increases by two percent each year, while its gas production is declining and reserves are being depleted. The bloc`s import dependence on gas is expected to reach 85 percent in 20 years.
Currently, Russia is the EU`s primary gas supplier. The country provides the EU with almost 150 billion cubic metres of gas, representing roughly 40% of Europe`s imports and 30% of the bloc`s consumption.
The Baltic pipeline is to follow a route from Russia to Germany, bypassing the traditional transit countries such as Poland and the Baltic states. Moscow has in the past complained about gas theft from transit countries, particularly Ukraine, as well as about the costs of transit fees.
The main pipeline is expected to run 1200 km from Vyborg on the Russian side of the Gulf of Finland through the largely international waters of the Baltic Sea to Griefswald on the German Baltic coast.
A consortium of Gazprom, BASF/Wintershall, Gasuine and E.ON/Ruhrgas is to build the pipeline, with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder chairing the board.
Meanwhile, Poland, another critic of the project, is reportedly working on an alternative plan to be suggested to Moscow and Berlin.
"We are preparing a report on the transport of gas via a land route, which is simpler, less expensive and more secure. The prime minister will take this report with him to Moscow," spokesperson of Polish economy ministry Piotr Zbikowski told AFP on Tuesday.
According to media reports, cited by AFP, an alternative plan foresees the construction of a pipeline from Russia to Germany via Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.