So close, yet still so far away.
That's long been a fitting description for Nord Stream 2, the planned natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that was supposed to have already been in operation around a year ago.
In the meantime, US sanctions have delayed first gas from the pipeline, 150 kilometers of which remains to be installed, mainly in Danish waters.
Now, finally, something seems to be stirring in that regard.
It's in any case a rarity that a memo from the Danish Maritime Authority reaches so far out into the global new stream as was the case in the days leading up to Christmas. The memo, sent via Danish Intelligence for Seafarers informed that Nord Stream 2's pipeline installation in the Danish sector of the Baltic Sea is set to begin on Jan. 15, 2021.
Before Nord Stream 2 AG is allowed to resume work in Danish waters, it must submit a timetable for the task
Installation of Nord stream 2 was otherwise suspended throughout most of 2020 until the vessel Fortuna laid roughly 2.6 kilometers of pipe in German waters. Many observers thereby turned their gaze to Denmark, which still forms the last piece of the contentious puzzle.
After a longer period of tug-of-war and three discrete applications, the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) gave its final green light for Nord Stream 2 in October 2019, with the permit to commission the pipeline granted by the same agency roughly a year later.
However, it would be incorrect to say that Nord Stream 2 AG has everything in order before completing its operation through Danish waters. The DEA tells EnergyWatch Monday afternoon that the project company is simply not permitted to get started:
"Before Nord Stream 2 AG is allowed to resume work in Danish waters, it must submit a timetable for the task. This timetable, which must be approved by the DEA, has not yet been received by us," the agency writes in a reply.
The DEA also says it's aware of the maritime authority's memo.
Important approval missing
But if the work is going to get started in ten days' time, Nord Stream 2 AG is obliged to start communicating.
Beyond that, the project is simultaneously hit by another challenge emanating from the US.
Norwegian certification bureau DNV GL has refused to supply further approvals for the nearly complete pipeline, also on account of US sanctions.
Until now, DNV GL was supposed to have certified the connection's safety and technical quality upon project completion. The bureau was also meant to have issued a certificate tied to the pipe in Denmark's sector.
We are unable to disclose details about construction
In other words, Nord Stream 2 AG faces yet another obstacle ahead of laying the connection's final section.
Another question that was raised underway has revolved around which vessel could be hired to complete the job – not least in the light of the US imposing secondary sanctions against all companies otherwise interested in carrying out the task.
That threat prompted Swiss pipeline layer Allseas to withdraw form the project in late 2019. Since then, rumors have circulated about whether operator and majority owner Gazprom would try to hire one of two Russia-flagged vessels, Fortuna and Akademik Cherskiy.
The Danish Maritime Authority's memo shows that Fortuna has indeed been contracted to lay pipe through the Danish sector with assistance from Baltic Explorer and Murman. Fortuna has previously been engaged in connection with installing pipe in Russian waters.
No details disclosed
EnergyWatch has asked Nord Stream 2 AG's spokesperson in Denmark about the project's timetable, to which the representative merely refers to the maritime authority's memo and gives no further comment as to Nord Stream 2 AG's intentions now that DNV GL won't rubber-stamp the pipeline.
When asked about when the project company expects to complete installation in Danish waters and then commission the development, the group responds:
"We are unable to disclose details about construction. Every delay will, however, have a larger impact on European consumers, which will have to pay a premium for more expensive LNG."
Nord Stream 2, when complete, will extend more than 1,200 kilometers and supply 55 billion Sm3 per year.
The project is managed by Russian state-owned Gazprom, while five European companies, Engie, OMV, Shell, Uniper and Wintershall Dea are on board as investors.
The pipeline has an aggregate value of USD 11 billion.
English Edit: Daniel Frank Christensen