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Debates around third line of Nord Stream

After Vladimir Putin’s recent statement about possible construction of the third line of the Nord Stream gas pipeline this topic hit the agenda on the interstate and expert levels. No Russian official has voiced concrete technical and economic parameters of the new main pipeline yet. However, during a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev German Chancellor Angela Merkel snubbed discussions concerning Nord Stream’s third line saying that Germany planned to replace its nuclear energy output first of all with renewables and the remaining volume would not require third, fourth and fifth lines of Nord Stream.

It is obvious that the theory of possible substitution of the capacity of German nuclear power plants by alternative sources of energy in the near future is shared only by the most ideologized part of the Green. More down-to-earth analysts from the camp of Gazprom opponents allude either to LNG and shale gas or coal as substitute of nuclear energy. This variant is more probable than the “wind and solar energy instead of NPPs” scenario, but still it is vulnerable. Prospects of shale gas production in densely populated Europe are doubtful, while growth in LNG supplies supposes long-term political stability in key Middle East countries, which has been very questionable lately. As far as coal is concerned, this variant is quite implementable economically and technologically, but in this case European politicians will have to give up the sacred course aimed at cutting emissions to the atmosphere. Despite its development, the clean coal technology does not solve the problem completely making coal as acceptable as natural gas from the ecological point of view. Thus, the stake on coal will require public acknowledgement of the fact that a long-lasting discussion about the necessity to stop global warming, acid rains, etc. was a mistake or just a game for the naïve public.

If European politicians do not sanction “the return to coal”, they will not avoid making new contracts on gas imports. This means Nord Stream may have the third line in the future, unless Kiev agrees to sell its gas transportation system to Gazprom and preserve Ukraine as transit state. In this case no third line of Nord Stream will be required, as well as the future of the South Stream gas pipeline project will become cloudy. For Ukraine this would be an opportunity to retain gas transit revenues. However, Ukraine has not sent signals of understanding the situation yet.

By Stanislav Mitrakhovich, NESF leading expert

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