Russia has restarted construction of the politically-delicate Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, laying pipes after a one-year interruption driven by US sanctions, the pipeline operator said.
“The pipelay vessel Fortuna will lay a 2.6 km section of the pipeline in the German Exclusive Economic Zone in water depths of less than 30 m (100ft),” Nord Stream 2 announced in a statement on Friday.
Swiss-Dutch company Allseas halted the laying of pipes in December 2019 after Washington threatened to sanction the firm, forcing Russia to use its own resources to build the 1,230-kilometre pipeline, which is designed to double the 55 billion cubic meter annual gas capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline.
The two pipelines, which bypass Ukraine, will have the capacity to pump more than half of Russia’s total gas exports to Europe. Disputes between Moscow and Kiev over gas supplies led to the interruption of Russian gas flows to Europe in the past decades.
The pipeline, which the US claims compromises European energy security, has turned into a flashpoint in relations between Moscow and the West that have seriously declined to post-Cold War lows with the Kremlin dismissing the US sanctions as “unfair competition.”
The consortium -- led by Russian gas giant Gazprom -- has yet to lay more than 100 kilometres of pipeline, though more than 90 percent of the project has reportedly been completed.
It further added that all construction activities would be carried out in full compliance with existing permits and it would provide information about further offshore construction works in due course.
Gazprom’s western partners in the project -- estimated to cost $11.5 billion -- are Germany’s Uniper, BASF’s Wintershall Dea , Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell, Austria’s OMV and Engie.
Meanwhile, the maritime authority in the German city of Stralsund has notified shippers in the Baltic Sea area where Nord Stream 2 will make landfall that there will be pipeline-laying activities from December 5 through 31.
The development came a week after US lawmakers agreed to extend sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline even though Russia’s Gazprom had already announced plans to resume the construction efforts last Saturday.
But under the draft of the annual US defense policy legislation for 2021, American legislators agreed to impose sanctions on more firms involved in the massive project.
The measures will target companies that facilitate the construction of the pipeline, along with those that provide insurance, reinsurance, testing, inspection and certification services.
Russia has two projects to send natural gas to Europe, namely the Nord Steam 2 and the Turk Stream 2 pipeline, which will supply Western Europe with energy.
The Turk Stream 2 will carry gas through Bulgaria.
The US has threatened both projects with sanctions, as the outgoing administration of Donald Trump sought to curb Russia’s purported economic leverage over Europe and Turkey.
German daily Bild reported that a German state government considers creating a special fund to bypass Washington’s restrictions.
Citing unnamed sources, Bild further stated earlier this month that the fund is aimed at tackling the problems of climate change, and may identify the project as the most important element of environmental protection.
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