The operating company: broke. The investors: gone. Politics: full of fear for their own reputation. Nobody cares about Nord Stream 2 anymore. The pipeline is filled to the brim with gas and lies dormant on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Is she a ticking time bomb?

Maybe one day the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will be like the Titanic: divers check from time to time whether the steel colossus is still lying down there on the seabed, and when they come up they bring back a few blurry photos, who tell of people’s overconfidence.

That would still be the best case. In the worst case, a time bomb is ticking down there on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, and nobody knows when it will go off and what will happen then.

It’s about Nord Stream 2, the pipeline welded together from 200,000 steel pipes that connects Russia with Germany. It is 1220 kilometers long. Each pipe is twelve meters long and weighs 24 tons, the material value alone corresponds to that of a good used car. At the end point in Lubmin in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the giant tube is closed with massive valves at the front and back, because there is already gas in it. It should be 330 million cubic meters, enough to get more than 100,000 single-family homes through next winter. The gas alone is worth almost half a billion euros at current prices. Not to mention the steel.

But gas and iron have no owner. Just erected, never used, the once-in-a-century building has already been lost in the whirlpool of history.

In the end, Germany did not issue an operating license. It failed when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. A few days later, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that one of the first sanctions would be that Nord Stream 2 would not go into operation. Since then, the signs in Germany have been pointing towards independence from Russian gas, and that is likely to remain the case – at least as long as warlord Vladimir Putin is in power in the Kremlin.

The five financial investors from Germany, Austria, France and the Netherlands or Great Britain have written off their investment because the client, the Swiss Nord Stream 2 AG, which belongs to the Russian state-owned Gazprom group, is insolvent. She laid off all employees at the company headquarters in the low-tax Swiss canton of Zug, and the last one even blocked the website.

The financiers, who have also sunk around three quarters of a billion euros, are not badly affected. Among them are corporations such as Shell, Austria’s OMV, Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall. They are all currently earning splendidly from the surge in energy prices. They are no longer interested in their once favorite toy, the Nord Stream tube.

The largest natural gas pipeline project in Europe has also left its mark above the water surface in the port of Mukran. Another 5000 tubes are stored there in the open air – neatly stacked, fenced off and abandoned. The pile got the local reporters from Norddeutscher Rundfunk on the scene. They asked and found out: Denmark had refused to build Nord Stream 2 in its waters. The builders rescheduled and wanted to largely bypass the Danish territorial waters. They ordered additional pipes from the producer Europipe in Mühlheim an der Ruhr.

In January 2021, under pressure from Germany, Copenhagen finally gave the green light after Russia pledged to continue transporting natural gas through Ukraine to Central Europe after the completion of the second Baltic Sea pipeline. But by then the extra tubes had already been delivered and to make them even more durable: encased in concrete, now making it difficult to sell or melt down. Also, like the entire pipeline, they don’t really belong to anyone right now.

The situation was “procedural, unclear, unregulated. One is waiting for the other,” reporters from “Zeit online” note, who have also tried to untangle the situation. For example, it is unclear whether the pipeline would have to be dismantled if it is not being used or maintained. Nord Stream AG, which no longer exists, would be responsible for demolition. Gazprom, as the owner and possible legal successor, could block itself because it was Germany that refused to put it into operation.

The environmental association Nabu is already concerned: As soon as the prescribed maintenance and controls are no longer required, the deterioration begins: Shellfish first settled on the tube, sediments settled, at some point the plastic coating decomposed and rust eats into the steel, says Nabu- Marine expert Kim Detloff.

In particular, the pollutants from the plastic could then disturb the ecosystem. “If the pipeline is no longer needed and has lost its authorization, then it has to go out again,” Detloff told “Zeit online”. The methane gas in the tube also caused environmentalists to frown. It could still be done now over the brand new valves: But then someone would have to clarify whether in Lubmin or in western Russia.

There is a reason for the reluctance on the German side. All those who pushed the project forward to the very end have now come under more political pressure than the pipeline ever had. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig, who was still a brilliant election winner for the SPD last year, could be the focus of a committee of inquiry into a kind of German Waterkant affair. At least that’s what the opposition wants.

In early 2021, her government pushed for the creation of a foundation to protect pipeline construction from US sanctions. The “Climate and Environmental Protection Foundation” initially received 20 million euros from Nord Stream 2 AG and 200,000 euros from the state. “How the government in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania made itself the henchman of Nord Stream 2 in order to push ahead with the construction of the Baltic Sea pipeline must be investigated urgently,” demands Anton Hofreiter, member of the Greens in the Bundestag, who is currently not missing any opportunity to present himself as a Ukraine to position supporters and Putin enemies.

Schwesig has admitted talks with Nord Stream 2, but says that “we in the state government and in the state parliament made our own decisions and nobody else.” She wants to avoid the impression of dependence on the Russian gas barons at all costs. Your predecessor Erwin Sellering heads the foundation and intends to continue doing so. Sellering and Schwesig have now thoroughly fallen out over this.

Which makes it clear that no help can be expected from the foundation in the event of a possible dismantling. The tubes lie on the seabed, filled with gas and announce that Western Europe’s hope of being able to stock up on cheap energy from Russia at any time will remain an air booking for the time being.

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*The article “Putin gas for half a billion lies on the bottom of the Baltic Sea – that’s becoming a problem” is published by WirtschaftsKurier. Contact the person responsible here.