Should the Nord Stream pipeline be considered an engineering wonder?

The seafloor pipeline from Russia to Germany has been in the news lately (see “U.S. urges Ukraine to stay quiet on Russian pipeline” (Politico): “The Biden administration is asking an unhappy Ukraine not to make waves, as it nears Russia-Germany pipeline agreement.”; I guess Joe Biden finally found a pipeline that he could love! (compare to “Keystone pipeline canceled after Biden had permit blocked” (USA Today)).

I wouldn’t have thought that a 760-mile seafloor pipeline could be done as a practical engineering matter. From Gazprom:

The outside surface of pipes has a special anti-corrosion concrete coating. The concrete coating is made of high-density iron ore, which is crushed, mixed with cement, and put on pipes. As a result, pipes are wrapped in spiral reinforcement, which is filled with concrete, and then treated with steam in special tunnels for 24 hours. The concrete coating helps meet several challenges at once. Firstly, it keeps the pipeline on the seabed, preventing it from drifting off with undercurrents. Secondly, it serves as insulation, protecting the trunkline from outside mechanical damage.

The genius of Russian engineering? Wikipedia says that it was actually the Italians who figured out how to do this:

On 19 March 2007, Nord Stream AG hired Italian company Snamprogetti, a subsidiary of Saipem, for detailed design engineering of the pipeline. A letter of intent for construction works was signed with Saipem on 17 September 2007 and the contract was concluded on 24 June 2008

Readers: Should we be awed that this is working at all? Is the best analogy the Portuguese and other early European trips around the Horn of Africa to India and China? It is tough to believe that the sea voyage was actually more efficient than the overland one, but a lot of middlemen were cut out.

(My Ukrainian friends are not fans of this Biden Administration decision, but it won’t cost Uncle Joe any votes because these non-virtuous immigrants to the U.S. already disliked Biden/Harris for their Bigger Government policies.)


  • “The Security Implications of Nord Stream 2 for Ukraine, Poland, and Germany” (Wilson Center): … repairing the current Ukrainian-Polish pipeline would cost around €6 billion. The construction of Nord Stream 2, however, would cost €10 billion. Experts believe that Nord Stream 2 is diverting gas from the preexisting Ukrainian-Polish pipeline, meaning Europeans will receive the same amount of gas, if from a different source. … completion of the pipeline would see the European continent increase its dependence on Russian gas. If tensions were to rise between Europe and Russia, Russia could turn off the pipeline, leaving millions of Europeans without gas. Second, Europe’s reliance on Russian gas would present Russia with the leverage to further meddle in the affairs of its neighbors without consequence. Third, the new pipeline would divert the flow of gas from Ukraine and Poland, leaving these two countries to face a substantial revenue loss. They would also be forced to pay higher gas prices.

11 thoughts on “Should the Nord Stream pipeline be considered an engineering wonder?

  1. Whether Russian gas flows under the sea or through Ukraine the reliance of Europeans on it remains the same. The point about less Russian subsidies for Ukraine and Poland is accurate though, though sometimes US rhetoric embraces “free market” prices, but apparently not in this case.

  2. At the same time EU (Germany) proposes new taxes on imported materials produced with use of carbon. Times are not far when Russia will be paying to export gas to Europe. Yes, Biden threw Ukraine under the bus, neither he nor VP Harris are planning to attend Crimea conference in Ukraine this summer. Official Ukraine supported US Democratic party in the past years, internally and in international forums, often to its own detriment. A tale of caution is here somewhere.

  3. Germany talks a good game about carbon emissions, but they are actually building coal plants after unwisely shutting down their (excellent) nuclear plants after Fukushima.

    At the same time, some European countries are trying to ditch natural gas altogether. My parents’ 41 year old gas furnace in the Paris suburbs is conking out (leaking water tank, no spare parts available any longer). They are considering getting a more efficient condensation furnace, or a heat-pump. The French government is offering them around €9,000 in incentive subsidies to go for the heat pump (the total cost of replacement and hauling the old one away would be in the €12,000 range.

    Why would Italian engineering be less respectable than Russian? Italy has the same GDP, after all, and some experience with concrete that lasts (see the Pantheon in Rome).

    Sea voyages are way, way more efficient than by land let alone by air, by an order of magnitude at least. It costs around a mere $1,000 to ship a 20ft container from the West Coast to Europe. In ancient times the differential was even more overwhelming, and shipping over 50 miles or so by land was simply not economically viable because most of the carrying capacity of ox carts would be taken by the fodder needed to feed the oxen.

    • terrific video — you have to marvel that human beings are capable of doing something like this — thanks

  4. This is one of your rare posts that I just have (almost) no comment on because it’s completely self-explanatory. But why didn’t Biden/Harris run on it? Shouldn’t they have mentioned something about it during their campaigns, given the geostrategic (and macro- and micro-economic) importance? Did they get the memo?

    • I also wonder if any nightly news programs will cover it and spend some time explaining the importance and do a compare/contrast with the Keystone XL pipeline for their viewers and readers? I know that yesterday Kamala Harris *definitely* got the memo about the new CDC mask guidelines, as did Nancy Pelosi. Harris interrupted a White House press conference to don a mask and force everyone in the room to do the same (despite there being no mask mandate in DC) post-haste and PRONTO! buddy.

      But will anyone mention this, or will we all have to just listen to NPR to find out what a good decision it was? It affects hundreds of millions of people everywhere in the world. Anyone covering it as much? I don’t count Politico ’cause we know who they are, mostly Donk Wonks and Inside-the-Beltway types. How ’bout mainstream news?

  5. So you didn’t go to Oshkosh like the rest of the internet. Was certain there would be a blog post about Mike Patey finishing his home built plane in only 2 years or landing the Greenspun-20 during a thunderstorm.

  6. Ukraine is a failed state that constantly steals gas from the supply line. Why wouldn’t Germany and the EU want to accept the supplier’s offer of a more secure pipeline? Now there will be just one interface to deal with (Russia), instead of Ukraine/USA/Poland/Nato/etc.

    Btw Crimea was never really Ukrainian it was only a political play for Kruschev to get the support of the Ukrainian communist party. Unfortunately they are again victims of that bad political decision , coming back to haunt them

    • Hmm, geography is not a strong point of this observation, somehow Crimea’s only land border is with Ukraine. There are a lot of failing states around Russia. This is correlating with a lot of failed states being around Germany in 1930th, including Germany itself.

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