German Agency Suspends Approval Process for Russia Pipeline

BERLIN (AP) -- Germany's network regulator said Tuesday that it has suspended its procedure to certify the operator of a new pipeline that would bring Russian gas to the country under the Baltic Sea because of an issue with the company's status under German law.

Construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was completed earlier this year, but it is not yet in operation. It is a contentious project that Ukraine and the United States have opposed.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country could quickly boost natural gas supplies to the European Union once German regulators allow the new pipeline to start operation. Energy prices have soared in Europe, which imports much of its natural gas from Russia, and led to pain for businesses and households.

It wasn't immediately clear to what extent the move by the German network regulator, the Bundesnetzagentur, to suspend the procedure to certify Nord Stream 2 AG as an independent transmission operator might delay those plans. The step is required before gas can legally flow.

"Following a thorough examination of the documentation, the Bundesnetzagentur concluded that it would only be possible to certify an operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if that operator was organized in a legal form under German law," the regulator said in a statement.

The operating company is based in Zug, Switzerland, and "has decided not to transform its existing legal form but instead to found a subsidiary under German law solely to govern the German part of the pipeline," it added. That will become the owner and operator of the German section of the pipeline.

The agency said the certification will remain suspended "until the main assets and human resources have been transferred to the subsidiary" and it can verify the documentation is complete.

Owned by Russian-controlled gas giant Gazprom with investment from several European companies, Nord Stream 2 was built under the Baltic Sea and bypasses Poland and Ukraine, raising objections from those countries.

The U.S. has strongly opposed the construction of Nord Stream 2, but it reached a deal with Germany in July to allow the pipeline's completion without imposing U.S. sanctions on German entities.