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GERMANY AND RUSSIA

Pipe dreams: German village seeks future for Nord Stream 2

Once defended by the former chancellor Angela Merkel as a purely economic project that will bring cheaper gas to Europe, the controversial 10 billion-euro Nord Stream 2 pipeline has finally been canned by Germany over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Pipe dreams: German village seeks future for Nord Stream 2
People on the beach in Lubmin, northern Germany, in July 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

But the small German coastal village Lubmin where the pipeline comes to shore remains divided over Nord Stream 2, with some harbouring hopes that it could yet one day bring energy to Europe — though perhaps not Russian gas.

“I cannot imagine that such a huge and above all such an expensive project could just become industrial ruins,” Lubmin’s mayor Axel Vogt told AFP.

“I think there can be other solutions, if we look a little in the future, hydrogen is a major topic. Not only here in Germany, but in the whole of the European Union and also in other countries outside the EU,” he said, pointing out that it was technically possible for the pipeline to transport hydrogen fuel.

Vogt conceded, however, that it would take a while for the pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to find another life — with regulatory and legal procedures to run their course.

READ ALSO: OPINION – Germany has scuppered Nord Stream 2 but there are questions to answer

Plagued by controversies

Nord Stream 2, which is owned by Russian giant Gazprom, had sparked an outcry among Germany’s allies even in the planning stages several years back.

The US and especially former eastern bloc EU nations had repeatedly warned against the pipeline that bypasses Ukraine and which they say would increase Europe’s energy dependance on Russia.

Merkel’s government had obstinately pushed on with the project, viewing Russian gas as necessary in Germany’s transition to a zero-carbon future, and construction works completed in September 2021.

But with warnings already rising of Russia’s impeding assault on Ukraine, the pipeline’s fate once again hung in the balance.

With Moscow refusing to withdraw its troops from the borders with Ukraine and instead pushing ahead with its invasion, Chancellor Olaf Scholz finally put a key certification process on ice on February 22nd.

A sign for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Lubmin.

A sign for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Lubmin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

A week on, compounded by an onslaught of sanctions against Moscow from Western allies, the Swiss-based Nord Stream 2 filed for insolvency, laying off 106 workers.

Vogt said only about a dozen employees were based at the site in Lubmin, given it was a “highly technologised” operation.

His local authorities have also not budgeted in the expected taxes for the coming years.

But he conceded that the controversies over the years surrounding the pipeline have weighed on investor sentiments, making some question if it was safer just to stay away from a site associated with the Nord Stream project.

Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck was more strident about it, telling public television it “would have been smarter not to build Nord Stream 2”.

‘Price of civilisation’

At the tranquil seaside village of just over 2,000 inhabitants, residents are still equally torn.

Kerstin Ahrens, 60, said she was opposed to stopping the pipeline despite Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, “because it’s such a complete waste of money.”

“It’s all terrible with Russia but I don’t find it good that we’re stopping it now,” she told AFP at the white sandy beachfront.

“Everyone had hoped that gas will be cheaper and now everything is more expensive, and there’s not all that much money up in this region,” she said.

Unlike Ahrens, another resident in the north-eastern Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania region, Heike Schulte, said the pipeline had to be halted “simply because the dependency to Russia is too great.”

And the 66-year-old says she is prepared to fork out more if that is the price to pay for ditching cheaper Russian energy.

“It’s the price of civilisation, we must live with it,” she said.

By Hui Min NEO

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ENERGY

‘Scarce commodity’: Germany raises gas alert level as Russia reduces supply

Germany said Thursday it would raise the alert level under its emergency gas plan to secure supply following the recent reduction of pipeline supplies from Russia.

'Scarce commodity': Germany raises gas alert level as Russia reduces supply

“Gas is now a scarce commodity in Germany,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters.

Triggering phase two brings Germany a step closer to the third and final stage that could see gas rationing in Europe’s top economy.

Germany first activated the first stage of the emergency gas plan at the end of March. At the time Habeck said it was a precautionary measure to prepare for any supply restrictions in future. 

READ ALSO: Germany activates emergency gas plan to secure supply

Russia was using gas “as a weapon” against Germany in retaliation for the West’s support for Ukraine following Moscow’s invasion, Habeck said on Thursday. 

Germany, like a number of other European countries, is highly reliant on Russian energy imports to meet its needs.

READ ALSO:

Russian energy giant Gazprom last week significantly reduced supplies via the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany by 60 percent due to what the company said was a delayed repair.

The second “alarm” level under the government’s emergency plan reflected a “significant deterioration of the gas supply situation”, Habeck said.

At the “alarm” level, Germany is still considered to be in a position to “manage” the situation for the time being.

Habeck said that households “can make a difference” by saving energy, as Germany launches a campaign to encourage gas saving measures.

Germany has dismissed the technical justification provided by Gazprom, instead calling the move a “political decision”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday there was “no double meaning” in the supply decision.

“Our German partners are well aware of the technological servicing cycles of a pipeline,” he said.

“It’s strange to call it politics.”

In recent weeks, Gazprom has stopped deliveries to a number of European countries, including Poland, Bulgaria, Finland and the Netherlands.

German gas stores just under 60 percent full

Germany’s Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) said the second stage means that the security of supply is still guaranteed, but the situation is tense.

“The reason for declaring the alert stage is the cut in gas supplies from Russia, which has been in place since June 14th 2022, and the continuing high price level on the gas market,” said the Ministry in a statement.

The Ministry said that gas storage facilities were currently at 58 percent. But there are concerns over the reduction of gas deliveries from Russia via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

“This means that there is currently a disruption in gas supply, which is leading to a considerable deterioration in the gas supply situation; it is therefore necessary to declare an alert stage,” said the Ministry.

Germany has mandated that gas storage facilities be filled to 90 percent ahead of the European winter this year to mitigate the risks from a supply cut.

The country has managed to reduce the share of its natural gas supplied by Russia from 55 percent before the invasion to around 35 percent.

It has also sought new sources of supply, and accelerated plans to import gas into the country by sea in the form of LNG.

What is the emergency plan?

Germany’s gas emergency plan, which is based on a 2017 EU regulation, has three escalation levels – the early warning stage, the alert level and the emergency level.

According to the law, the early warning stage should be declared if there are “concrete, serious and reliable indications that an event may occur which is likely to lead to a significant deterioration of the gas supply situation and is likely to trigger the alarm or emergency stage”.

At the third “emergency” stage, the government intervenes in the market to divvy up limited supplies. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany has urged households and businesses to cut back on gas

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