by Teresa Geertsen
The Baltic Pipe Project (BPP) is an initiative to transport Norwegian gas from the North Sea through Denmark and the Baltic Sea to Poland. In looking into the governmental and legal system that wields the power to approve such projects, it quickly becomes evident that these systems are set in place to support and implement fossil fuels projects rather than challenge or ultimately deny them.
Denmark is a small, affluent nation situated in the southern part of Scandinavia and has been internationally renowned in the past couple of years as one of the front runners in sustainability among industrialised nations. However, behind the clever branding, forests of windmills, and kilometres of bike paths, Denmark still has a large ecological footprint per citizen.
The Baltic Pipe Project
The Baltic Pipe Project (BPP) is managed by the Danish government-owned gas and electricity transmission systems operator Energinet and the Polish GAZ-SYSTEM. The project will extend a fossil gas pipeline from the North Sea, 200 km through Denmark and the Baltic Sea to Poland. The pipeline received final approvals in the fall of 2019 and is set to be completed in January 2023, after several delays along the way.
The BPP will annually transport 10 billion cubic metres of Norwegian gas to Poland for the next 30-50 years.
Approximately 500 landowners across Denmark face forced expropriation of their land. Opponents of the project criticise it as a breach of the Paris Agreement and Danish climate laws and goals, as being irresponsible and unacceptable in an age of climate crisis, as a violation of the Danish constitution, as undemocratic, and as economically risky.
The BP route; legs of the project numbered (Baltic Pipe Project website).
The Baltic Pipe Project has inspired extensive local opposition amongst local farmers, landowners and climate movements (including 350 in Denmark), and activism continues as the pipeline is being implemented. Examples of successfully halting major fossil fuel projects in Europe – such as Midcat and a gas terminal in Göteborg, Sweden – fuels hope that this can happen in Denmark and other countries as well.
Danish environmental agencies are structured to facilitate fossil fuel projects
As a government-owned, independent company, Energinet has a monopoly on the Danish market for energy transmission systems operators and was therefore required to explore the feasibility of the BPP. Energinet’s main functions are to provide Danish consumers with affordable energy sources, to increase Danish energy security, and to be competitive on the energy market. It is, however, not required by law to lower emissions, and the company therefore prioritises economic rather than environmental interests.
Energinet answers primarily to the functioning Minister of Climate, Energy and Utilities, who has the final decision-making power. Following the political decision to pursue the project, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Agency oversee that all rules and regulations are abided by on land and ocean territory, respectively. Their main function is, in collaboration with the developer (here Energinet) to implement the project with as much regard for local nature and population as possible and reach a final Environmental Impact Assessment and approval of the project—meaning that these agencies rarely actively work to prevent the projects they investigate. As such, the scope of the agencies focuses solely on local environmental considerations, while considerations for the global, long-term climate effects are deemed purely political and within the jurisdiction of the Minister.
In this way, the Danish government (and other governments as well) continue to make the approval process of fossil fuel projects easy to follow through and difficult to oppose. Any real decision-making comes down to one person, the minister, which is hardly democratic when it comes to a project that will deeply affect many Danes locally, as well as the global climate.
It became clear from the structural favouring of large-scale fossil fuel projects in Denmark that the progression of the BPP is both contingent on and will further perpetuate the process of Carbon lock-in. Carbon lock-in describes a society’s self-perpetuating, systematic reliance on fossil fuel consumption. This mechanism becomes entrenched in a society’s structural patterns through large-scale industry lobbying, systematic and economic barriers embedded into institutional and technological trajectories, politics, and discourse.
In looking at Minister Lars Christian Lilleholt’s speeches defending the BPP, underlying values of carbon lock-in society were more than evident. His discourse is characterised by prioritising industrial and economic interests by naturalising gas as a bridging fuel (or a ‘transition fuel’ in Australian discourse) and reconceptualising what he calls “the green agenda” to fit his business-as-usual perspective. He also frames the BPP as a humanitarian endeavour to “save Poland from pollution”, and he manages to dehumanise both the Polish general population as well as the local Danes along the path of the pipeline.
Red flags mark the future path of the pipeline on a Danish field. (Photo by the author).
Meanwhile, interviews with local farmers and landowners revealed that they largely saw the fight as one for human rights, that they should not have to have their voices ignored at one public hearing after another, or have their land taken. Energinet and the involved government agencies have so much power that the project was described as something unstoppable with its own immovable trajectory. And while the locals fought alongside general climate activists, they got the feeling that the government agencies only cared about local flora and fauna rather than people in their assessments, pitting locals against local nature concerns. They also highlight the economic risk of investing in such a large fossil infrastructure project, should Denmark, Poland, or the EU decide to cut off gas sources to enforce emission cutbacks before it has paid itself back—which is, of course, ultimately desired.
Tying the Baltic Pipe Project to the global climate agenda
Looking at cases from other countries can provide further insight into the workings of industrialised fossil economies, and as emissions know no borders, these projects affect us all. Understanding the concept of carbon lock-in and the threat it poses to transitioning away from fossil fuel dependency can help us argue our case against fossil fuel initiatives. The current crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have unfortunately inspired world leaders to increase fossil fuel dependency with a yearning for stability and wanting to go back to “normal”—but coming together to aid each other in a time of need should instead be an important example of how we can also work together to end fossil fuel consumption. The BPP is becoming closer and closer to being completed, but as developers of Scarborough Gas have yet to begin construction, much more can still be done to show resistance.
Learn more about the “Say No To Scarborough Gas” campaign.
Learn more about the Baltic Pipe Project .