Estonia has refused permission for a geological survey in its territorial waters for a proposed gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. But VOA Moscow correspondent Peter Fedynsky says the Russian-German project will likely proceed with an alternate route.

Estonia says issues of sovereignty and national interest were behind a government decision to deny permission for a geological survey in the country's territorial waters for a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. Nord Stream, a Russian-German consortium, applied on May 31 for permission to conduct the study. Nord Stream hopes to open a 1,200-kilometer pipeline in 2010 to transport gas from Russia to Germany.

Estonian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ehtel Halliste told the VOA that Nord Stream's request covered a large area of the country's economic zone, territorial waters, and continental shelf in the Gulf of Finland. "That kind of survey of the continental shelf requires drilling, and would provide information of the amount of Estonia's natural resources," said Halliste.

Some pipeline critics in Estonia say it could draw Russian military ships into Estonian waters under the pretext of protecting it. Spokesperson Halliste, however, says that was not a consideration in denying the survey permit.

Several European nations have expressed concern that the pipeline could damage the undersea environment. Nord Stream spokesman Jens Mueller says the survey request was made to allay Finnish concerns.

"Within the international consultation process, in the Finnish inclusive economic zone, we were asked by Finland to do some surveys, let us say to the benefit of the environment, and we cannot do this survey. Therefore, will come back to our existing plans and to our existing investigations, and it is no damage for the project," said Mueller.

A statement issued by Nord Stream says the Estonian decision must be carefully studied before a further evaluation can be made. The statement adds that the consortium will continue to work with countries bordering on the Baltic Sea to ensure timely construction of the pipeline.

Nord Stream could fall back on its original plan for construction of two parallel pipelines through Finnish waters. The first is expected to become operational in 2010, with a capacity of more than 27 billion cubic meters per year. The second line is expected to double the volume to about 55 billion cubic meters.

Gazprom, the Russian State gas monopoly, has a 51 percent stake in the project. German companies BASF and E.ON each hold about 24 percent.