BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission vowed on Tuesday to study thoroughly whether a planned gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea meets strict environmental rules, responding to concerns of some countries in the region. The Nord Stream pipeline, due to link Russia and Germany and involving Gazprom, E.ON and BASF, has sparked protests in countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, which say it will damage the environment.
By Marcin Grajewski
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission vowed on Tuesday to study thoroughly whether a planned gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea meets strict environmental rules, responding to concerns of some countries in the region.
The Nord Stream pipeline, due to link Russia and Germany and involving Gazprom, E.ON and BASF, has sparked protests in countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, which say it will damage the environment.
"We need to respect fully all relevant Community laws in this very important and complex project," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told a public hearing on the pipeline organized by the European Parliament.!ADVERTISEMENT!
He said if EU laws, such as those on wildlife protection, were broken, the Commission "will not hesitate" to sue those countries in whose waters the violation takes place.
The Commission may ask the European Court of Justice, the EU's top court, to halt the project in an extreme case, for example if Brussels were to reject completely its environmental impact assessments.
Nord Stream director Dirk von Ameln assured the hearing his firm would respect all EU laws and has hired independent consultants to ensure that would be the case.
"Nord Stream is fully committed to preserving the Baltic Sea environment. The pipeline has been planned with a profound awareness of the environmental issues and conditions of the Baltic Sea," he said.
The first comprehensive environment impact assessment is to be published soon by Danish consulting firm Ramboll.
Ramboll's director for the project, Neel Strobeck, said the study was not completed yet but the pipeline's route had been chosen so as to minimize its impact on the environment.
Switzerland-based Nord Stream plans to start work on the 1,200 km pipeline in 2009 and complete it in 2010. The pipeline is to cover 25 percent of the EU's demand for natural gas.
Some environmental protection groups and Polish members of the European Parliament reiterated the pipeline would pollute the already dirty Baltic Sea.
Its construction could create an ecological disaster, they said, if workers accidentally disturb Nazi German chemical weapons that have lain on the Baltic seabed since World War II.
Poland in particular has spoken out against the pipeline, fearing that Russia's more muscular use of its energy resources could eventually result in it using the Baltic gas pipe to avoid shipping gas via Poland to western Europe.
Warsaw has argued a sub sea pipeline would be nearly three times as expensive as a land one. Nord Stream has said the project costs would exceed 5 billion euros ($7.39 billion).
"It is not out of line to believe that the goal of spending such a large sum may be designed to exercise political influence over its neighbors," said Keith Smith, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank.
Russia and Germany deny any such allegation.
The Nord Stream consortium, as well as Gazprom with 51 percent, involves German firms BASF and E.ON with 20 percent each, and Dutch Gasunie with 9 percent.