German authorities have granted permission for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 undersea gas pipeline from Russia to continue despite U.S. sanctions threats and opposition from environmental groups.
The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency’s (BSH) decision on January 15 can still be appealed.
Environmental Action Germany (DUH), which campaigns to protect the environment, said it would challenge the decision in court, arguing the “mega fossil fuel” project threatens the climate and some of Europe’s most important migratory bird habitat on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast.
The U.S. government and some EU members want to prevent the pipeline from being completed, saying it will strengthen Russia’s energy hold on Europe and undercut Ukraine’s role as a transit country for Russian gas.
The pipeline, designed to double capacity of the existing undersea Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, has been a point of contention between Berlin and Washington.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said January 15 that he hopes to have high-level talks with the incoming Biden administration about possible new U.S. sanctions against the project.
The threat of U.S. sanctions forced a Switzerland-based pipe-laying company to suspend construction on Nord Stream 2 in December 2019 shortly before its completion.
Nord Stream 2, led by Russian gas giant Gazprom, had to bring in a different type of ship, which is moved or held in place by other vessels, requiring a new permit.
The Russian ship, called Fortuna, finished a 2.6-kilometer section of each of the gas pipeline's branches within Germany’s exclusive economic zone in December 2020 but the permit expired at the end of the year.
The new approval allows for work to continue in Germany's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) until May.
Fortuna left the German port city of Wismar on January 14 and moved in the direction of the construction zone, Germany’s NDR public broadcaster reported.
Separately, Danish authorities had said work near the island of Bornholm would begin from January 15 with the Fortuna's participation.
However, a Nord Stream 2 spokesperson told German business daily Handelsblatt that the ship is not anticipated to begin laying pipes until the end of January or beginning of February.
According to Gazprom, 94 percent of the pipeline has been completed. That leaves around 150 kilometers left -- or 75 kilometers on each parallel line -- of which 120 kilometers are in Danish waters and 30 kilometers in German waters.