Germany battles environmentalists over Baltic Sea gas terminal

Minister seeking new energy imports meets protesters on holiday island of Ruegen

Activists held a protest against the new terminal outside Chancellor Olaf Scholz's office in Berlin this week. Getty
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A battle was heating up on Friday between the German government and environmentalists who say a new Baltic Sea gas terminal should be blocked now that “the acute energy crisis has passed”.

Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck was holding talks on the holiday island of Ruegen, where the government wants to station a floating import terminal off the coast.

Ministers say the country needs the terminal — in addition to three already open and others planned — to ensure sufficient gas imports for eastern Germany and neighbouring countries.

Germany's first liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal was built in just 194 days in the North Sea, after the war in Ukraine exposed its reliance on pipeline imports from Russia.

But some environmentalists say former Mr Habeck has got carried away in his rush for new energy sources and that more terminals are merely cementing a dependence on gas.

Protests have taken place on Ruegen, Germany's largest island. Activists are threatening legal action to stop the new terminal, which former Green party leader Mr Habeck wants to have in place by winter 2023/24.

“The acute energy crisis has passed, and protecting the climate and environment should once again be the top priority,” Olaf Bandt, the head of Friends of the Earth Germany, said on Friday.

“It is very likely that energy security in Germany and Europe can be guaranteed with fewer LNG terminals than are currently planned, rather than more.”

Among the local concerns are that the sea view could be spoiled and local wildlife could come under threat if a new pipeline links the LNG terminal to the mainland.

The project was further called into question when energy company RWE signalled it had no long-term interest in the LNG terminal and would only act as a “service provider” to the government.

Protests against the plan reached Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s office in Berlin this week, with demonstrators opposing what one placard called a “monster LNG terminal” off the coast.

A representative for Mr Habeck’s Economy Ministry said on Wednesday that the government had taken note of the local opposition.

“We are very aware of it,” the spokesman said.

“But we of course have to weigh it up against the interests of the whole of society, which include energy security.”

He said part of the government’s thinking in planning for at least six LNG terminals was that “we simply are in the middle of Europe geographically, and so provide for other countries with gas pipelines”.

The floating LNG terminals import gas from providers such as the US and Qatar, which is then piped into the German energy grid and beyond. There are plans for some of them to be turned into permanent facilities on the mainland.

No final decision has been taken on the Ruegen terminal’s location. Mr Habeck was due to hold talks with local businesses and members of the state government in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania on Friday.

The state’s premier Manuela Schwesig has come under intense criticism for lobbying in favour of the now-abandoned Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia.

Berlin has explored the possibility of repurposing disused Nord Stream pipes for the LNG link.

The Nord Stream 1 and 2 natural gas pipelines from Russia to the German coastal resort of Lubmin were damaged in unexplained explosions in September 2022 that rendered three of four lines inoperable.

Updated: May 12, 2023, 2:14 PM