Porpoises pose obstacle to Germany's switch to LNG

Minister tells environmental charity to drop objections to floating North Sea terminal

A pier for a planned floating liquid gas terminal in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Reuters

Germany has urged porpoise enthusiasts not to stop the construction of a floating liquid gas terminal on its northern coast, where work has formally begun on a facility intended to replace Russian pipelines.

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck told an environmental charity to drop a proposed lawsuit calling for construction in Wilhelmshaven to be paused because among other factors it would endanger local porpoises.

Mr Habeck, who signed an agreement on Thursday to get the first floating terminal in place by the end of this year, told broadcasters he sympathised with activists’ concerns but that Germany needed the gas to keep the lights on.

“I love porpoises. I’m the biggest porpoise fan in the government,” said Mr Habeck, the most senior Green party minister in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet. But in a worst-case scenario, “your lawsuit will make us more dependent on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” he said.

The charity had also objected to the project’s effect on the underwater biosphere and to what it said were missing procedural steps when the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal was approved.

“The premature start of construction for Germany’s first LNG terminal is incomprehensible from an energy perspective and should clearly be rejected from a climate and nature point of view,” said activist Constantin Zerger.

Mr Habeck has promised to get the facility built in “record time” as Germany prepares for a potential gas crunch next winter if deliveries from Russia, previously the main supplier to Europe’s biggest economy, cease. European countries are under pressure to stop financing Russia with energy payments and loosen Moscow's hold over their power grids.

Russian exporter Gazprom has already turned off the tap to Poland and Bulgaria, leaving Germany braced for a similar move because it too refuses to pay for Russian gas in roubles — a demand made by the Kremlin in retaliation for western sanctions over Ukraine.

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said he was a fan of porpoises but that Germany needed the gas. Reuters

Germany’s power grid regulator this week sent out questionnaires to the country’s biggest energy consumers as it considers which ones might have their gas supplies reduced if the country is short of fuel.

Ministers say they are well on the way to replacing Russian oil and coal, but gas is more difficult because Germany previously had no LNG terminals to receive shipments from other exporters such as the US and Qatar.

Russia supplied 55 per cent of Germany’s gas before the invasion of Ukraine, a figure which has fallen to 40 per cent but is not expected to fall to zero before 2024, weakening the prospects of an effective European Union gas embargo.

Critics say the problem is exacerbated by Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power, with the last three reactors due to be switched off this year, but officials have ruled out an extension.

Mr Habeck has attributed Germany’s reliance on Russia to mistakes by previous governments, who sought to stay on cordial terms with the Kremlin despite worsening East-West relations in recent years.

The documents he signed on Thursday envisage chartering four vessels called floating seaborne and regasification units, which turn the fuel back into gas after it is carried in liquid form across the oceans.

They anticipate that Germany will start receiving LNG within months, once connections to the mainland energy grid have also been built.

A more permanent terminal is due to be in place in Wilhelmshaven by 2025. Another one is planned in Stade. In the longer run, Germany hopes to convert LNG infrastructure to handle hydrogen as part of a wider green transformation of its economy.

“Speeding up the energy transition is the most important thing for an affordable, independent and secure energy supply,” said Mr Habeck, who is also planning a major expansion of solar and wind energy.

Germany has signalled it will support an EU oil embargo it had previously opposed, after finding alternatives to most of its supplies from Russia.

But the proposal for an oil ban by the end of this year may run into difficulty because of concern from landlocked countries Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who want more time to replace Russian supplies.

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Updated: May 05, 2022, 12:22 PM
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