Environmental groups are warning that the 1,200-kilometre Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea could become an environmental hazard and a source of atmospheric methane if it is left to decay after stopping routine service and maintenance.
But with the pipeline closed and its operator headed toward bankruptcy, the legal path ahead is ambiguous.
“If the pipeline is no longer needed and has lost its justification then it has to come out,” said marine expert Kim Detloff of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union.
The operating licence for Nord Stream 2, a controversial pipeline completed by Russian state fossil Gazprom in September 2021, was put on hold by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the days leading up to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It is unclear now whether it needs to be dismantled and removed, reports Clean Energy Wire.
Nor is it clear who would pay for its removal. Although the pipeline’s operator—Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream 2 AG—is theoretically responsible for dismantling the pipeline if necessary, the company is close to declaring bankruptcy. Gazprom itself could reject financing, and most investors have already written off their stakes in the project.
Also at stake is the risk of climate-damaging methane leaks from the 360 million cubic metres of gas that Gazprom had already pumped into the pipeline. Without any standing legal provisions, Germany will have to pay any costs to fix the leaks if the pipeline owner is unwilling to pay. But it isn’t clear who would foot the bill for other possible measures, like replacing the gas in the pipeline with nitrogen to avoid a fire hazard, Clean Energy Wire says.