Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Nord Stream gas pipeline raises bank funds

Nord Stream
The Nord Stream consortium is already laying pipelines in the Baltic Sea

The consortium behind the planned Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Europe has sealed a 3.9bn euro ($5.4bn; £3.5bn) funding deal from 26 banks.

The deal marks a milestone in development of the 1,220km (756-mile) pipeline, due for completion in 2012.

Russia's gas giant Gazprom has the biggest stake in the controversial venture, which environmentalists say will increase pollution in the Baltic.

Supporters say the project will secure energy supplies from gas-rich Russia.

The finance raised from the bank syndicate and consortium partners paves the way for completion of the first phase of the pipeline, which is expected to cost of 7.4bn euros.

Gazprom owns 51% of Nord Stream. Germany's BASF-Wintershall and E.On Ruhrgas each hold 20%, and Gasunie of the Netherlands has 9%.

The plan is to pump 55bn cubic metres of gas annually to Germany and other EU countries through the pipeline.

Alexei Miller, chief executive of Gazprom, said: "The completion of Phase I financing is a landmark event in the development of Nord Stream and helps take the project from concept to reality.

"Nord Stream solidifies the long-standing energy relationship between Russia and Europe, a relationship that has lasted nearly 40 years," he added.

Environmental worries

The Baltic is said to be one of world's most polluted seas. Concerns have been raised that the project could stir up toxins lying on the sea bed, especially those inside a vast number of World War II munitions.

Finland has only permitted the project on the grounds that ships laying the pipeline do not lay anchor in Finland's economic zone, to prevent the disturbance of sediment.

However, last month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Baltic leaders in the Finnish capital Helsinki that extensive research had been carried out into any environmental impact and that the pipeline would be "safe".

European Union countries are also involved in two other major projects - the Nabucco and South Stream pipelines - to deliver gas to Europe from Russia and Central Asia.

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