US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette has said he feels confident Russia won’t be able to finish the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea. Furthermore, he said the US will continue to put pressure on Russia and press forward with its opposition to the project. 

The pipeline would pump as much as 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from fields in Siberia directly to Germany and has become a focus for geopolitical tensions across the Atlantic. Trump has assailed Germany for giving “billions” to Russia for gas while it benefits from US protection.

The US has said Europe should cut its reliance on Russia for gas and instead buy cargoes of the fuel in its liquid form from the US. In December, US sanctions forced Switzerland’s Allseas Group SA, which was laying the sub-sea pipes, to abandon work, throwing the project into disarray. 

“It’s distressing to Americans that, you know, Germany in particular and others in Europe would rely upon the Russians to such a great degree,” Brouillette said, adding that he is unaware of additional sanctions should Russia move to defy the US.

When asked about Russian efforts to circumvent US sanctions on the pipeline by completing it on its own, Brouillette, Donald Trump’s top energy official, simply said “they can’t” and dismissed claims that project owner Gazprom PJSC will only face a short delay as a result. 

In an interview at the Munich Security Conference, Brouillette said “It’s going to be a very long delay, because Russia doesn’t have the technology. If they develop it, we’ll see what they do. But I don’t think it’s as easy as saying, well, we’re almost there, we’re just going to finish it.”

Nord Stream 2’s owners had invested 5.8 billion euros ($6.3 billion) in the project by May 2019, according to company documents.

Even as he spoke, signs emerged that Gazprom’s attempts at completion may be underway. A Russian pipe-laying vessel, the Akademik Cherskiy, left the port where it had been stationed in Nakhodka on Russia’s Pacific coast last week. 

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak mentioned last year that vessel as an option to complete the pipeline in Denmark’s waters. The vessel is now expected to arrive in Singapore on February 22, according to ship-tracking data on Bloomberg.

The pipeline was just weeks away from completion, with 94 per cent already constructed, when US sanctions halted work. There’s a small section in Denmark’s waters that needs to be finished. Before the halt, Nord Stream 2 hoped to finish construction by the end of 2019 or in the first few months of this year. That would allow gas deliveries in time to supply Europe by winter 2020-2021.

While Gazprom has said it’s looking at options to complete the pipeline, it hasn’t given any details on where it will find the ship to do the work. One of the pipeline’s financial backers, Austrian gas and oil company OMV AG, has predicted that the Russians will continue to completion. 

“From my point of view, they will find a solution,” Rainer Seele, OMV’s chief executive officer, told Bloomberg.

Nord Stream 2’s other European backers besides OMV are Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Uniper SE, Engie SA and Wintershall AG.

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26th February 2020