Lubmin is a picturesque resort on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast that boasts a long stretch of sandy beach bordered by soft dunes and a lush pine forest. Located a few hours north of Berlin, the town offers tourists a postcard version of seaside tranquility. Or it would, were it not for the fleet of excavator barges that sails out from the local port every day, and the large building site hiding behind the pines.

Both are part of a fiercely contentious project that has split Europe down the middle and set Germany on a collision course with some of its closest allies. Out in the sea, the excavator barges are digging a massive underwater trench that runs in a straight line towards the building site on land. If all goes to plan, that trench will soon hold a pipeline filled with the most explosive commodity in European politics today: Russian gas.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been in planning since 2015 and is due for completion in late 2019. Its defenders argue the project makes perfect commercial sense: the pipeline will connect the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas with the largest economy in Europe, doubling the capacity of the existing trans-Baltic link, Nord Stream 1, which has been operational since 2011. Together, the two pipelines will eventually be able to carry 110 billion cubic meters (Bcm) a year of natural gas, enough to meet almost a quarter of total demand across the EU.