State-of-the-art gas pipeline commissioned

9 ноября 2011 

Commercial gas supplies from Russia to Germany via the Nord Stream gas pipeline started the day before at a gas metering station near the German town of Greifswald.

In harmony with nature

The small German town of Lubmin, a suburb of the old town of Greifswald, is located on the Baltic Sea coast. First gas from Russia came via the Nord Stream gas pipeline to this very place on November 8.

From Berlin to Lubmin, we are driving through a heavy fog, which is getting gradually thicker at dawn. Our colleagues from Germany and we are well aware of the treacherous weather of the Baltic Sea coast. Despite the fog, we easily reach the Baltics: German autobahns never fail.

The first subsea pipeline was built in the Gulf of Mexico in 1954.

Over 6,000 kilometers of subsea trunk pipelines have been laid in the North Sea to date. Some of them have been operated since the 1970s.

The sea terminal in Lubmin is surrounded with pine trees; it blends in perfectly with the coastal woodland. Age-old trees grow just about three meters behind the fence: clearly, they couldn’t have grown here in a day, and were simply left untouched during the construction.

We make a short stop on our way. Two trucks carrying huge vanes for windmills stop next to our bus. The vanes seem to be larger and much more impressive as compared with what we are used to see from afar. Gas and renewable power generation get along well in Germany and don’t interfere with each other. This energy law is adhered to even during our trip.

Cosmic scale

A few huge sphere-shaped pavilions are already prepared for the guests of the ceremony. One of them is equipped as a ceremony hall and a press centre for journalists. Feeling the atmosphere of a cocktail party inside the pavilion, you regret being dressed camp style, as everything inside is not much different from a reception hall at a plush hotel.

Pyotr Borodavkin, Professor of Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas foresaw the Nord Stream gas pipeline construction as far back as in 1978.

He pointed out that this particular route was the best one for laying subsea gas pipelines. According to the professor, this was due to a shallow depth of the Baltic Sea and its relatively smooth bed. It is no less important that the gas pipeline comes to Germany, which is the largest European gas consumer. Notably, Ulrich Bardt, a student of the department headed by Pyotr Borodavkin, later participated in the Nord Stream gas pipeline project working at the construction of the coastal units off the Portovaya Bay.

Over 500 guests are present. The guests include Dmitry Medvedev, President of Russia; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Francois Fillon, Prime Minister of France, and his colleague from the Netherlands – Mark Rutte; Guenther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Energy; and heads of Russian and European energy companies.

Nord Stream gas pipeline's first string commissioning

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Nord Stream gas pipeline's first string commissioning

Francois Fillon, Prime Minister of France. Photo by Nord Stream AG

Forty thousand kilometers of the Baltic Sea bed, which is equal to the circumference of the Earth, were surveyed during preparation for laying the Nord Stream gas pipeline.

About 60 shipwrecks were found on the sea bottom. Seventeen cultural landmark sites were found in the Russian waters of the Gulf of Finland. Among them are several sailing ships dating back to the 18th – 20th centuries and two Soviet torpedo boats. Many household items such as vehicles, bicycles, washing machines, refrigerators, and even shopping carts were found as well.

A special area for the photo shoot of the official persons was prepared in front of the dead end of the gas pipeline – pig receivers and launchers. They are now plugged with eye-catching covers with gear-like teeth. The Nord Stream pipe emerging on the German shore few hundred meters away from this place can be seen here.

In general, everything I could see told me that they were ready to celebrate the event in a big way. But that was no wonder at all. Clearly, Germany was waiting for this moment to come for many years.

In 2007, an old cannon dating back to 1566 was raised from the seabed at the Port of Visby off the Gotland Island during the seabed survey to identify the optimal route for the Nord Stream gas pipeline.

Presumably, the weapon was on board of one of the ships of the Danish-Lubeck fleet, which sank near the entry to the Visby harbor in a strong storm on the July 28, 1566. In all, sixteen warships which fought against Sweden in the Nordic Seven Years' War were lost to the storm. The cannon is now being restored in Gothenburg, Sweden; afterwards, it will be displayed in the District Museum on the Gotland Island. Specialists manufactured fully-operational replica of the raised shipboard cannon and use it during holiday fireworks.

Against all odds

The project to lay a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany across the bed of the Baltic Sea was born over 10 years ago. The need to reduce dependence on transit countries became obvious in the early 2000s. North European Gas Pipeline Company SA (which was afterwards renamed Nord Stream AG) was established in the town of Zug, Switzerland, in November 2005 to build the sea section of the gas pipeline. It is an interesting fact that it was not instantly decided to register the company exactly in Switzerland; Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland were also considered.

The project participants did a lot of work prior to commencement of the project: they obtained permits from all countries whose territorial waters were to be used by the gas pipeline; conducted large-scale surveys of the Baltic Sea bed and multilateral consultations with experts and community leaders. Heavy investments were made in the integrated environmental monitoring system. Its results show that the actual impact of the gas pipeline construction was somewhat lower than the values specified at the planning stage.

The Nord Stream gas pipeline will take just one thousandth of one percent of the Baltic Sea area, which is similar to an area taken by a banana on four football fields combined.

Matthias Warnig, Managing Director of Nord Stream AG, noted in his speech at the ceremony that in 2006 the participants “had quite uncertain feelings of what to expect”. “We had surprises and challenges,” he said. And all challenges, according to him, were resolved due to well coordinated work of the entire Nord Stream’s team which is over 200 people from 26 countries.

Finally, the construction of the first string of the 1,224-kilometer-long Nord Stream gas pipeline was started in April 2010. Eighteen months later, Russian gas arrived in Europe bypassing transit countries for the first time ever. The first string throughput capacity is 27.5 billion cubic meters; and in a year the gas pipeline capacity will grow to 55 billion cubic meters with commissioning of the second string. Nobody doubts that the second string will be commissioned on schedule, since over 800 kilometers of the pipeline have already been laid on the Baltic Sea bed.

The sea water quality is thoroughly monitored during the gas pipeline construction.

Level of the sea water turbidity is monitored from ships and they install buoys equipped with special sensors in particularly important areas. Spreading of turbidity fields is monitored with the use of the satellite sounding data. The results of the surveys helped establish that the content of suspended solid particles during the Nord Stream gas pipeline construction doesn’t exceed permissible values. Common mussels help monitor the spread of pollutants. Cages with mussels are placed in the studied area, and after a while their contents are analyzed for pollutants.

As Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in his speech, the Nord Stream gas pipeline was built in accordance with the most stringent environmental requirements. “We have heard so many different things said over this period. But most importantly, everyone can see now that the objectives of this project are absolutely practical or economic. It is safe to say that the new gas pipeline will be the most advanced one in this area and particularly in the area of environmental protection,” he added.

Nord Stream gas pipeline's first string commissioning

Dmitry Medvedev, President of Russia

Nord Stream gas pipeline's first string commissioning

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of Netherlands. Photo by Nord Stream AG

About 100 fish species occur in the Baltic Sea.

Cod, herring, and sprat are the most commercially important ones accounting for about 90 to 95 per cent of the commercial catch. Other fish species of commercial importance include salmon, flounder and trout.

The first string of the Nord Stream gas pipeline can reach the design capacity in 2012. In the medium term, the transit volumes will depend on the European market demand, said Alexander Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee Russia has no doubts that gas will enjoy demand in Europe. The head of the Russian state expressed his confidence that the European Union would be able to overcome current difficulties and the demand for gas can grow to 200 billion cubic meters by 2020. “We believe that the European Union economy can overcome all current difficulties and will achieve a steady growth and then, according to expert appraisal, additional annual demand of our friends in Europe can be increased to quite considerable figures, such as 200 billion cubic meters of gas,” the President said.

Wheel of history turned

Fully aware of the importance of the event, the organizers tried to bring almost a cosmic scale in the ceremony of the gas pipeline commissioning. The pavilion with guests was reminiscent of a spaceship. Pink clouds were drifting across the huge dome.

The ceremony began with a performance by the Baltic youth philharmonic orchestra, followed by a movie about the gas pipeline construction. It showed snowfields of Yamal, where Russian gas is emerging from subsurface, and welding of pipes, their subsequent delivery to the Baltic Sea coast and laying on the seabed. In addition to the video, powerful sound effects similar to a starwar blockbuster slammed the audience with decibel waves. It was hard to believe it was a routine working day of the project participants.

The gas pipeline commissioning ceremony took place after the welcoming speeches. This time, the guests were presented with a symbolic handle of the gas pipeline valve instead of a traditional button. The Russian President, the Chancellor of Germany, Prime Ministers of France and Netherlands as well as representatives of Nord Stream shareholders turned this handle, or the wheel of history, as it was dubbed by a participant. Afterwards, the pipe, also installed here on a podium, started to be filled with the blue fuel.

Nord Stream gas pipeline's first string commissioning

Gerhard Schroeder, Francois Fillon, Johannes Teyssen, Angel Merkel, Mark Rutte, Dmitry Medvedev, Alexey Miller, Guenther Oettinger, Kurt Bock, Erwin Sellering. Photo by RIA Novosti

After a while, the guests left the room. Only two words in German — Guten Appetit – were left on the screen. But in spite of its ceremonial nature, the event didn’t look artificial, which is sometimes what you feel due to abundant colors. It was clear to everybody that really much work had been done, and Russian gas in the amount of 1 million cubic meters per hour for the first time went directly to Europe. It was also clear to everybody that there was still much to do, including completion of the second string and creation of new transmission capacities for steady gas supplies to European consumers.

Gazprom website Editorial Board