The South Stream pipeline project is a complex technical endeavor which entails a wide array of factors, including that of environmental protection.
The present assessment concerning South Stream’s environmental impact reveals opposing views from multiple actors vying for answers, concessions and influence alike.
Furthermore, the South Stream project in terms of environmental research lacks any detailed scrutiny, from either state authorities or civil organizations. This lack could be attributed to the fact that the project is still in the early stages of preparation.
The president of the Committee of the Black Sea Regional Energy Center (BSREC) and also director at the Center for Energy Policy & Development in Greece, Prof. Dimitris Mavrakis, holds an optimist view concerning the environmental viability of the project.
According to him, “Laying pipelines in the sea bed, either for developing subsea fields or for natural gas transportation is a common practice in our days.”
Moreover, he explains that “the exploitation of North Sea natural gas reserves has led to the development of a dense network of subsea pipelines, without negative environmental implications, and the same applies for the Mediterranean Sea”.
Mavrakis’ overall final conclusion is that “South Stream does not include any environmental risks, as experience has shown from previous pipelines already deployed’.
The Italian partner in the project, ENI, has already released a press report underlying that the “strictest environmental criteria and the most advanced technologies will be carried out in cooperation with Gazprom”. The Italian branch of Greenpeace, according to the local media, hasn’t rejected the project in terms of its environmental prospects, though no definite report has been made by any Italian environmental organization so far.
On the other hand, there are those who objecting to the above by keeping a critical stance. According to the Moscow paper Kommersant, the press service of the Ukrainian Environmental Ministry has expressed that “the pipeline would require a close study and the conduct of a large-scale ecological assessment”.
For the moment, further information has not been made available by Kiev, though diplomatic sources in Athens confirm that Ukraine will bring up the environmental issue in the future, and that this will certainly exacerbate strains in its relations with Moscow.
Further, the Polish member of the European Parliament, Mrs. Urszula Gacek, has made her country’s reservations public by drafting a relevant question to the Commission in early 2008, stating that “South Stream [Pipeline] may have negative consequences concerning [the] Black Sea’s ecosystem”. The question was aimed at exploring the probabilities of an EU hand-out for South Stream, a development that hasn’t occurred so far.
In Greece in early September 2008, when the South Stream agreement was voted on by the Parliament, the Left-wing party of Syriza voted against it, citing environmental reasons and more specifically “Physical degradation of the environment in places where the pipeline is going to cross, including the internationally protected “Natura 2000” zones”.
Already the local authority of the scenic coastal Perdika region in Western Greece has proclaimed in an adamant manner that the construction of the pipeline traversing their territory, in combination with the creation of a natural gas compressor station, will “ruin their natural environment and damage extensively their well-formed tourist infrastructure”.
The members of the municipal board have claimed that the existence of a preparatory report concerning the environmental consequences by a faculty member of the Athens National Technical University, though the authorities of the School were not able to verify such for the time being.
The WWF branch in Greece agrees in principle that “Natural gas should be encouraged as an alternate form of energy in comparison to lignite, oil or stone coal,” but adds the caveat that the construction of the South Stream Pipeline should be “carefully assessed and become part of a public energy debate”.
Bulgarian NGO’s involved in environmental protection have not expressed their view on the project, but there are numerous weblogs, mostly by young university activists, calling against the construction of pipelines in general, citing environmental reasons. Similar resentment has largely come from residents of the port of Burgas, from where both South Stream and the Burgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline are projected to pass.