Russian marine biologist says North European Gas Pipeline is environmentally safe

Russia's Baltic neighbors are concerned over its agreement with Germany to build a North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP). The reason is clear - coastal residents are worried by man's intrusion into the marine environment. Besides, the Baltic is a promising region for the development of marine life, which will bring huge profits, new technologies and jobs.

This negative response is largely caused by the fear of possible environmental contamination by this project. I would like to stress that in the past 40 years the marine research institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences have been leading the world in ecosystem analysis and in the appropriate methods for studying the seas. I am sure that the level of development of marine sciences and modern technologies allow people to build facilities that are very safe as regards their effect on the environment.

The Baltic Sea is vulnerable mainly because it is shallow. Normally the upper layer in any sea (100-150 meters) is where life develops. Because the average depth of the Baltic Sea is a mere 71 meters, it means that the entire water layer is biologically active, and a gas pipeline will disturb the delicate eco-system. Another negative factor is associated with the sad history of two world wars - there are disposals of chemical weapons and a vast number of mine fields, many of which have yet to be discovered, on its seabed. Naturally, today's local residents are concerned about the real condition of these dangerous weapons.

However, there should also be another approach to the prospect of building the NEGP. The gas pipeline solves the problems of energy supplies, a highly important economic task, while modern technologies and knowledge of the sea combine to allow safe implementation of the project. One positive example of translating into life a similar ambitious project is the Russian-Turkish Blue Stream gas pipeline running across the bottom of the Black Sea. It has been in safe operation for nearly two years. Providing that all the latest construction technologies are used in accordance with the recommendations of marine biologists, I would consider, laying the NEGP across the bottom of the Baltic Sea, safe.

The gas pipeline will lie on the seabed. What can threaten it in the Baltic? It is safe to say that the conditions in the Baltic Sea are far more favorable for the project than those in which the Blue Stream was laid. The latter runs across the Black Sea at the depth of over 2,000 meters, passes through the continental slope which at times can reach 45-47 degree angles. During the design phase, high seismic activity in the area was taken into account and the pipeline was built accordingly. No such dangers lay in store for a pipeline in the Baltic Sea, which greatly reduces the possibility of eco-catastrophe during gas transportation operations.

All theoretical threats in this case are associated only with technical miscalculations or with some man-made effects that may damage the pipeline. But these are controllable processes. Nonetheless, extraordinary situations should not be ruled out. The workers laying the pipeline could disturb unknown areas of arms disposal. Fishermen using drag nets could also damage it. However these are extreme cases. Hundreds or thousands of meters of cables lie on the bottoms of many seas, where they are quite safe. In addition, there are special services whose function is to regulate maritime activity in the areas where these objects are located.

How can the NEGP affect the ecosystem? I don't see any negative potential risks. Perhaps the building process itself will have a local effect. Modern technologies in the construction of pipelines are well tested and they will definitely be adapted to the environmental requirements in the Baltic Sea. I am sure it will present no danger to the marine biology of the sea. Transportation of goods by ocean going ships that involve loading, unloading, and transshipment operations is far more dangerous than a pipeline running across the bottom of the generally tranquil Baltic Sea.

Mikhail Flint is the deputy director of the Institute of Ocean Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinion of the editorial board, RIA Novosti reported.

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