German chemical giant Bayer built a pipeline to transport carbon monoxide from one plant to another. Highly disputed, it's still not in operation years later. New public safety concerns include fear of terror attacks.
Just weeks ahead of a key state election, politicians in the populous western German state of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) want to stop a previously approved controversial pipeline project by a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Bayer from going into operation.
NRW Environment Minister Johannes Remmel, a member of the Green Party, would like to see a 2006 law revised and ultimately abolished that provided the basis for green-lighting the construction of the Covestro carbon monoxide (CO) pipeline almost 10 years ago.
Remmel says he is opposed to allowing operation of the pipeline for security concerns, or more to the point: terror attacks.
Terror attacks on a CO pipeline are certainly a concern nowadays, says Dieter Donner - but the main problem lies elsewhere.
Terror attacks, earthquakes and construction work
The 72-year-old press coordinator for the "Stop the Bayer CO pipeline" network told DW that the biggest risk to a belowground pipeline in densely populated areas is damage done when there is construction work nearby, resulting in leaks and fissures.
There is only one other CO pipeline in Germany - also in NRW, also set up by Bayer. There is a good reason for the scarcity of CO pipelines, Donner argues. The odorless, colorless, tasteless gas is "highly dangerous, even a small amount is lethal." Such hazardous products should only ever be "used in the plant where they are produced, and not transported," the environmentalist says.
The 67 km-long carbon monoxide pipeline connecting plants in Dormagen and Krefeld (both in NRW) was completed in 2011. It runs below ground through populated areas on the right side of the River Rhine, and twice crosses under the river to and from the factories situated to the left of the river. Bayer maintained it needed to transport excess CO, which is used in the production of hard plastics.
Difficult court case
But the German chemical company never received an operating permit for the pipeline due to various law suits and disputes surrounding CO and whether it should be transported in the first place, and whether the legislation allowing construction of the pipeline to go ahead was even constitutional.
"It's not clear how this will or can be resolved, the problems are huge and the court case is hopeless," Donner says.
Over the years, there have been numerous protests and petitions signed by thousands of concerned citizens to stop the pipeline, as well as the process of expropriations made necessary by its construction.
Cut your losses
Covestro unfailingly holds on to the plan of starting up use of the pipeline between Dormagen and Krefeld. Covestro spokesman Stefan Paul Mechnig told DW in a brief online statement that the company remains convinced of the "project's economic meaningfulness and necessity."
An expertise ordered by the state government in 2014 concluded that there are alternatives to the pipeline, however, and that the Krefeld plant is sufficiently able to supply itself with the CO needed to manufacture hard plastics, Donner says.
Experts reckon Covestro has already given up on the project. And Donner quotes from an article about the pipeline controversy in his local paper: "If the state government abolishes the pipeline law, the chemical firm might actually benefit - and try to get the state to pay compensation."