Finnish court rejects lawsuit to block Nord Stream pipeline

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A regional administrative court in Finland on Thursday rejected suits by environmental groups trying to block Nord Stream's construction of a massive natural gas pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

"The court rejects demands to overturn the decision (to grant the permit) on the basis of ... shortcomings of its environmental impact study," court documents said.

In a decision that could potentially remove the last legal obstacle to the venture, the administrative court rejected lawsuits filed by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (SLL), Finland's largest environmental organisation, and three Estonian environmental groups to overturn Nord Stream's permit to build the pipeline.

Court officials aknowledged the environmental risks of the venture but rejected plaintiff claims that the environmental impact studies were insufficient regarding fish, seals and the existence of toxic barrels on the sea bed.

"Of course there will be some effects on the environment, but we feel these are so minimal that the greater benefits of the project outweigh the effects," chief judge of the regional court Liisa Talvitie told AFP.

"We don't yet know whether we will appeal the verdict. We are looking closely at the decision. It's possible we will appeal," SLL spokesman Tapani Veistola told AFP.

Veistola stressed that allowing Nord Stream to begin construction of the pipeline while the appeals process was still underway in effect made any appeal meaningless.

"Even if we appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court, it could take a year to get a verdict and by then the pipeline might already be complete," Veistola said.

Nord Stream was initially granted the contested permit in February 2010 to construct the gas pipeline in Finland's waters. The company already has approval from every other country through which the pipeline will pass.

Nord Stream plans to build a 1,220-kilometre (760-mile) pipeline to deliver gas to Germany, a 7.4-billion-euro project led by Russian state-run energy giant Gazprom in partnership with Germany's E.On Ruhrgas and BASF-Wintershall.

It will link the Russian city of Vyborg and Greifswald in Germany, running under the Baltic Sea and passing through Russian, Finnish, Swedish, Danish and German waters.

Some 375 kilometres of pipeline are expected to go through the Finnish economic zone. A quarter of the gas consumed in the European Union comes from Russia.

© 2010 AFP

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