By Slawek Szerts

Radio Polonia
Warsaw, Poland
May 16, 2006

Russian-German pipeline ‘environmental danger’ say Poles Poland might demand compensation from Russia for environmental damage caused by the construction of the already controversial Baltic gas pipeline.

Environmental protection specialists are sounding the alarm that the construction of the Russian-German Northern gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea may cause an ecological disaster. Poland has been viewing the potential consequences and has not excluded compensation claims. The economy ministry in Warsaw has been in contact with the European Environmental Control Commission for some time already to acquaint itself with the construction plans and schedule of this gigantic undertaking, which could affect the environment of the Baltic Sea, including its Polish waters. Poland has, so far, showed disinterest in participating in this contract of the century, as most European media have dubbed the Russian-German project.

Its spectacular technical scope is matched by the potential ecological dangers inherent in the long construction process, says Jacek Winiarski, spokesman for Greenpeace Poland. ‘ The construction of this gas pipeline, which is planned for a few years will be a disaster for the life on the bottom of the sea, all 1200 kilometers long. It will also violate marine reserves that Greenpeace has been proposing for some time. One of them, and the gas pipeline will cross it, is Borhholm.

We have also another concern – the biological and chemical weapons, which where dumped by the Russians and Germans after the Second World War. If proper research will not be done before the construction, it might appear that some of these storages of chemical and biological weapons will be damaged. This would be a disaster for everybody in and around the Baltic Sea.’ Marek Strandberg, an environmental specialist from Estonia, one of the Baltic states, points to another danger posed by the Northern gas pipeline.

Once the construction work is started it will create the temptation of expanding the scope of the project, he warns. ‘ We know there is a large interest to sell not only gas from Russia, but also other things like crude oil or chemicals. Therefore, it’s very risky if someone will think in the future that the same placements could be used for equipping this area for a second and third pipeline meant for crude oil or chemicals. Under such conditions, in case of an explosion of the gas pipeline which is under pressure, they would also explode and that means serious environment risk.’ Jacek Winiarski of Greenpeace Poland points to safer and already partially existing means of transit routes for Russian natural gas to Western Europe. ‘ In the opinion of Greenpeace, this construction is dangerous and unnecessary. We strongly believe the existing routes, for example the Yamal pipeline, can provide enough gas to Western Europe. Especially, if the second part of this Yamal pipe would be built, because its construction was stopped a few years ago.’ But it is not only environmental organizations such as Greenpeace that are worried by the negative influence of the Northern gas pipeline project.

The Polish government, as other Baltic states, has announced it might consider applying for compensation to Russia for the damages, which the construction of the pipeline is more than sure to bring about, regardless of any future risk of an ecological disaster. According to experts, these claims may be calculated at 10 billion dollars annually. The end of May will see an international conference in the Lithuanian Baltic port of Klaipeda devoted to the assessment of the situation caused by the Russian-German pipeline project.