The EU is largely dependent on fossil natural gas imports, with a dependency rate of around 78% in 2018 . While almost one third of the EU’s gas imports come from Norway, the largest source is Russia through both direct and indirect imports via Ukraine and Belarus, overall accounting for almost half of the EU’s natural gas imports (2018) . A major geopolitical driver of the so-called Baltic Pipe Project has therefore been the diversification of the European energy supply in a push away from a dependency on Europe’s Russian gas supply . The aim of the cross-border gas infrastructure project is to create a new natural gas supply corridor in the European market, connecting the Norwegian with the Danish and Polish gas transmission systems . The project was awarded the status of a ‘Project of Common Interest’ (PCI) by the European Commission due to its role in strengthening the European internal energy market . It will be a collaboration between the Danish gas and electricity transmission system operator ‘Energinet’ and the Polish gas transmission system operator ‘GAZ-SYSTEM’, both state-owned companies . The reasoning behind the project has included arguments such a reduction in cost for gas users as infrastructure costs are split between Denmark and Poland, energy security in diversifying gas supply sources, increasing trade and competition in the gas market, opening up the possibility for cheap transportation of biogas and facilitating Eastern Europe’s transition away from coal and a dependency on Russian gas supplies [2, 4].
The roots of the Baltic Pipe Project date back to a pipeline project proposed by Denmark’s largest energy company Ørsted (formerly DONG Energy) and the Polish oil and gas company PGNiG in 2001; a project which was later suspended due to uncertainty regarding its economic feasibility . Attempts at reviving the project were made in 2007, however also remained unsuccessful . Revived a third time, the current project remains a Danish-Polish collaboration that is coordinated by the state-run companies Energinet and GAZ-SYSTEM. It was kick-started when it received the recognition as a PCI project by the European Commission in 2013, singling it out as a key European cross-border infrastructure project that links energy systems within the EU . This paved the way for several EU subsidies, starting with a grant awarded in 2015 as part of the EU finance facility ‘Connecting Europe Facility’ (CEF), followed by another CEF grant in 2017 to support further preparatory works . Another subsidy of up to €18.3 million was approved by EU member states in July 2018 . In Denmark, public consultations were held for three week periods between December 2017 and January 2018, and again from June 2018 to July 2018, after which an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the entire project was completed . Recommendations from municipalities and affected citizens were able to influence small changes in the route of the pipeline, however the public consultation process has been criticised as being inadequate by the farming community in Denmark . In November 2018, the project received a general approval from the Danish and Polish governments, enabling Energinet and GAZ-SYSTEM to proceed with preparatory work . This coincided with a longstanding territorial dispute in the Baltic Sea between Poland and Denmark being settled that same month; an agreement which was facilitated by the approval of the Baltic Pipe project given its strategic importance for Poland . Danish authorities formally approved the onshore part of Baltic Pipe on the 12th of July 2019, and most recently this was followed by an approval of the offshore components on the 25th October 2019 . The construction phase is planned to run from early 2020 to October 2022 where operation is intended to start, coinciding with the end of Poland’s existing gas supply contracts with Russia [3, 13].
By appealing to both socioeconomic, geo-political and environmental arguments in support of the pipeline project, the project has been framed as largely ‘environmentally friendly’ and beneficial to the populations of Denmark and Poland by the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Utilities . This has been facilitated by the European Commission listing the project as a PCI, with the intention of advancing the EU’s energy and climate policy to reach ‘affordable, secure and sustainable energy’ and long-term decarbonisation of the economy in line with the Paris Agreement . However, a range of Danish and international environmental organisations and the most recent campaign against the project ‘Baltic Pipe Nej Tak’ have pointed out contractions in Denmark’s intention to become carbon-neutral by 2050 as a signatory of the Paris Agreement, while investing in a large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure project [15, 16]. The main controversial impact of the project is that it enables a continued dependence on fossil fuel energy, as it is set to transport up to four times the amount of natural gas than Denmark consumed in 2016 and will operate until 2063, with investments in the project only being paid off by 2053 [10, 13]. Environmental organisations including NOAH (Friends of the Earth Denmark) and a range of other Danish and international climate organisations as well as the energy expert Brian Vad Mathiesen from Aalborg University have argued that this risks breaching the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, continues to lock in Poland and the rest of Europe in their dependency on fossil gas and delays the transition towards green energy [10, 15]. Meanwhile, the political discourse supporting the ministerial decision to approve the project has framed fossil gas a necessary stepping stone towards greener energy for Poland, facilitating the country’s transition away from coal . However, NOAH have pointed out that the argument that has been used to support the project, that fossil gas is comparatively better than coal, is problematic given its short-sightedness . The long-term investment of the project, which will run beyond 2050, risks curbing Polish incentives and the need to develop greener energy alternatives and more energy efficient policies, according to the organisation .
Estimates point to around 500 farmers and landowners being affected by the onshore section of the pipeline running through Denmark . A major impact will be the planned displacement of farms and local residencies near Everdrup where the gas compressor station is to be built. Here properties are currently being evaluated for compensation by a state-run expropriation committee (until December 2019) . An interview with an affected farmer near Everdrup highlights the uncertainty locals are faced with in this process, not knowing how much they will be compensated for . The majority of citizens affected by the planned pipeline are farmers, many of whom have expressed opposition to the pipe and concerns particularly regarding impacts on their drainage systems, given that the pipe will be placed only 1-2m below the surface of the earth [19, 20, 21]. Since 2017, a court case is underway involving Energinet and the farmer’s organisation ‘Landbrug og Fødevarer’ (Farming and Food) establishing who must pay for any potential relocation of the pipeline if a farmer wants to expand their land . Farmers and local citizens have also demanded more involvement in the decision-making process and pointed to the need for more awareness and debate around the project in Denmark given its scale [9, 22]. A farm owner pointed to Energinet’s executive decision on the route of the pipeline as ‘undemocratic’, with only minor changes possible during public consultation , which points to procedural justice issues. The farming community has also questioned whether the displacement and expropriation of farms and other properties truly lies in the ‘common interest’ of the Danish population, which constitutes the legal justification for expropriation in Denmark [9, 23]. This is currently being assessed by a lawyer hired by a group of farmers, who has questioned the validity of the legal justification for expropriation in the Baltic Pipe project . Project developers and the former minister of Climate, Energy and Utilities have argued that the project is in the common interest because of socioeconomic benefits such as cost reductions for Danish gas users, due to lower transport costs spread across Poland and Denmark, and an increase in supply security [8, 14, 17]. One news source points to the savings for Danish gas customers to lie around 100 DKK (around 13€) yearly . However, the environmental organisation NOAH as well as political parties Enhedslisten and Alternativet have voiced skepticism regarding the business case for the Baltic Pipe project, pointing out that the EU’s goal of down-scaling the use of natural gas will make investments in large-scale gas infrastructure projects such as the Baltic Pipe Project uneconomical in the long-run [14, 15, 17, 25]. Denmark itself is not in need of another pipeline, being the last remaining exporter of natural gas in the EU , and Norway has pointed to the pipelines’ redundancy, as its EU ambassador stated that a new pipeline is not needed to support its gas exports . Furthermore, the project’s approval process has received criticism given the lack of public debate and parliamentary approval needed, as it was ultimately a ministerial decision made by the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Utilities at the time that approved the project [14, 23].
In March 2018, civil mobilisation against the project was initiated through social media platforms. In a Facebook group called ‘Baltic Pipe i DK’, farmers and residents living in areas due to be affected by the pipeline began sharing their concerns with each other [26, 27]. Residents started two petitions against the project, one against the project as a whole and the other against the location of the compressor station . Several citizen assemblies were held, and resistance to the project slowly spread from worried farmers and neighbours to other Danish citizens and environmental organisations. This lead to the organisation NOAH sending their official response to the project’s EIA to the Danish government in April 2019 in an open letter, highlighting a range of issues and contradictions in the project and illustrating how it would be a breach of Denmark’s commitment to the Paris Agreement .
In July 2019, the campaign platform ‘Baltic Pipe Nej Tak!’ (‘Baltic Pipe No Thank You!) was launched with the aim of spreading information about the planned project, facilitating public resistance against the intensification of Danish fossil fuel infrastructure, and strengthening the movement towards a democratic and just climate transition . This lead to a joint open letter being sent to the Danish government representing a range of Danish and international climate organisations in opposition to the Baltic Pipe Project, including: NOAH, 350 Klimabevægelsen Danmark (Climate Movement Denmark), Den Grønne Studenterbevægelse (The Green Student Movement), Global Kontakt, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (Action Aid), Folkets Klimamarch (The People’s Climate March), Klima Aktion DK, Klimakollektivet and the local groups Borgergruppen i Everdrup and Everdrup Bylaug . The open letter explains deep concerns connected to the Baltic Pipe and strongly encourages Energinet and the Danish government to stop the project, ending with the statement: “Let’s stop the continuous investment in fossil energy and act in favor of the climate, nature, the locals, and democracy” (“Lad os droppe den fortsatte investering i fossil energi og handle til fordel for klimaet, naturen, de lokale og demokratiet”) . The political parties Enhedslisten, Alternativet and SF have voiced scepticism towards the project and both Enhedslisten and Alternativet challenged the former minister of Climate, Energy and Utilities in a parliamentary debate and committee meeting in 2018 and 2019 respectively [14, 17]. During their annual conference in 2019, Enhedslisten stated that while the political decision had been made, they will continue to support citizen’s mobilisation against the project .
Members of ‘Baltic Pipe Nej Tak!’ have arranged meetings, lectures and debates around the country to mobilise Danish citizens in the resistance against the gas project. However, according to an activist source from the campaign’s organisation, it has been difficult to mobilise people because of the lack of public attention the project has received. Campaign meetings have been attended by both climate activists and locals from Everdrup, according to the same source, and the environmental movement ‘Extinction Rebellion Danmark’ is also engaged in the movement. In late November 2019, Baltic Pipe Nej Tak! together with other climate organisations took to the streets in a demonstration in the center of Copenhagen . The group protested against fossil fuel infrastructure and the new government’s decision (elected in June 2019) to approve the Baltic Pipe project, which according to the group is undermining the government’s own climate targets . Baltic Pipe Nej Tak! has stated that the Danish government should “withdraw the resolution or expect resistance” . The campaign also encouraged people to send personalised complaints to the energy complaints committee (‘Energiklagenævnet’) by the 22nd of November 2019, following the official procedure to complain about the ministerial decision to approve the onshore section of the pipeline in October 2019 .
Following the final approval of the off-shore components of the project by the Danish government end of October 2019, Energinet and GAZ-SYSTEM plan to start construction works early January 2020 . An expropriation committee is currently evaluating properties and other compensation cases where the pipeline will cause displacement or any other form of negative impact such as noise, impact on livelihoods etc. . It remains to be seen whether mobilisation from affected citizens, farmers and environmental organisations will be able to influence the location of the compressor station or the overall outcome of the project. It is noteworthy that within the past year (2019), two major European gas infrastructure projects also listed on the EU’s PCI list - the MidCat pipeline between France and Spain and the Götebog gas terminal - have been successfully stopped with the help of climate activists . The ‘Skifergas Nej Tak’ campaign in Denmark is another example of people’s mobilisation putting an end to a gas fracking project in Dybvad in 2015 with a climate camp lasting 428 days . These examples point to the possibility of people’s mobilisation reversing decisions on major fossil infrastructure projects. Furthermore, the recent decision by the European Investment Bank in November 2019 to stop funding fossil energy projects by the end of 2021 indicates that energy sources such as natural gas are not a long-term part of Europe’s energy supply ; a decision that might exert pressure on the Baltic Pipe project in Denmark, despite already having received EU-funding and approval.
UPDATE: The construction of the Baltic Pipe gas conductor is expected to begin in the first week of May, following an agreement on May 4 between Polish gas grid operator Gaz-System and Italian oil services group Saipem worth 280 million euros. Construction works are set to start "immediately", according to Saipem. https://emerging-europe.com/business/work-set-to-start-on-baltic-pipe-gas-conductor/