A sudden and unexplained gas leak discovered in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines from Russia to Germany has prompted European countries to investigate the cause amid fears of possible sabotage.
Denmark’s armed forces on Tuesday released video showing bubbles rushing to the surface of the Baltic Sea above pipelines, and said the largest gas leak had caused surface disturbances. more than a kilometer in diameter.
The energy stalemate over Russia’s war in Ukraine halted flow through Nord Stream 1 and prevented the initiation of flow through Parallel Nord Stream 2.
A sharp drop in Russian gas supplies has sent prices soaring in Europe, where countries are struggling to find alternative sources of energy used to heat homes, generate electricity and run utilities. factory.
The leaks overshadowed the inauguration of the long-awaited Baltic pipeline that would bring Norwegian gas to Poland in a bid to cement Europe’s energy independence from Moscow.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s known so far:
The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline operator reported a sudden drop in pressure Monday night, with a spokesman alleging a possible leak.
This was followed by a statement from the Danish Energy Agency that one of the Nord Stream 2 pipelines located in Danish waters had a leak.
Hours later, Nord Stream AG, the operator of another undersea gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, said it was looking at reducing pressure in Nord Stream 1.
The Swedish Maritime Authority on Tuesday said it had warned of two leaks on Nord Stream 1 in Swedish and Danish waters.
Anders Puck Nielsen, a researcher with the Center for Marine Operations at the Royal Danish National Defense College, said the timing of the leak was “conspicuous” during the ceremony for Baltic Pipe, a new system that will bring Norwegian gas to Poland.
Maybe someone was trying to “send a signal that something might happen to Norwegian gas,” he said.
“But I think if we look at who is really going to benefit from the more turbulence in the gas market in Europe, I think there’s basically only one actor that really benefits from the gas market right now. more uncertain, and that’s Russia,” said Puck Nielsen.
Where is the leak?
Two leaks have been discovered in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which stopped supplying gas to Europe last month, both in the northeastern region of the Danish island of Bornholm.
Danish authorities have ordered ships to stay within 5 nautical miles of Bornholm following a leak in Nord Stream 2, which has yet to enter commercial service. Plans to use it for gas supplies were scrapped by Germany days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February.
Both pipelines still contain gas under pressure, but do not transport fuel to Europe.
Each route of the pipeline consists of about 100,000 concrete coated steel pipes weighing 24 tons placed on the seabed. The pipelines have a constant inside diameter of 1,153m, according to Nord Stream.
The sections are located at a depth of about 80-110m.
What causes the leak?
It is still not clear. Analysts and experts say such leaks are rare, and Nord Stream AG has called leaks on three lines of an offshore gas pipeline “unprecedented”.
Causes can range from technical problems to lack of maintenance, to even vandalism.
Peter Schmidt, a seismologist from Uppsala University, told AFP.
Ukraine said the leaks could be the result of a “terrorist attack” carried out by Moscow.
Kyiv’s presidential adviser, Mikhaylo Podolyak, said on Twitter: “The large-scale ‘gas leak’ from Nord Stream 1 is nothing but a Russian-planned terrorist attack and an act of aggression. with the EU.
The Kremlin said it did not rule out sabotage as the reason behind the damage, adding that it was an issue affecting the energy security of “the entire continent”.
The Polish prime minister said the leak was an act of sabotage, while the Danish leader said it could not be ruled out.
The European Commission said it was too early to speculate.
The German Geological Research Center GFZ said on Tuesday that a seismometer in Bornholm showed spikes at 00:03 GMT and 17:00 GMT on Monday, when pressure losses occurred.
Kathryn Porter, an energy consultant at Watt-Logic, an independent energy consulting firm based in the UK, said it was very rare for such a series of leaks to occur in the same area. shared.
“This is unprecedented,” Porter told Al Jazeera. “Everybody is scratching their heads trying to understand what happened here and what the motivation behind it might be.
“For broken pipes, normally you can get corrosion or fatigue, but Nord Stream 2 is a whole new pipeline. And you can look at some kind of construction problem, such as faulty soldering, but on the other hand, there’s a problem with Nord Stream 1 now and it’s been working since 2012.
“So it’s very difficult to come up with a reasonable explanation for these.”
Who is investigating?
As for the Nord Stream 2 leak, the head of the Danish Energy Agency, Kristoffer Bottzauw, told Reuters it was too early to say who would conduct the investigations. Bottzauw added that no one has reviewed the pipeline yet.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said the Swedish Armed Forces, the Coast Guard, the Swedish Maritime Administration and other relevant agencies were taking the necessary measures.
Germany on Monday said it was coordinating the response with police, local officials and energy authorities.
Analysts at Eurasia Group say the extent of the damage means the Nord Stream pipelines are unlikely to bring any gas to Europe this winter even with the political will to bring them online. , said analysts at Eurasia Group.
“Depending on the size of the damage, leaks could even mean the permanent closure of both lines,” wrote analysts Henning Gloystein and Jason Bush.
“Leaks of this size represent a serious safety and environmental hazard, especially if Russia does not stop pumping gas into the system,” the analysts said.
The Danish Energy Agency said that gas leaks from the damaged Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea will continue for several days and even a week.
Vessels may lose buoyancy if entering the area and there may be a risk of gas leaks igniting in the water and in the air, but there is no risk associated with leaks outside the exclusion zone. said.
Leaks will only affect the environment in the area where the air ducts are located in the water column, and the release of greenhouse gas methane will have an adverse impact on the climate.
Danish authorities have required that Denmark’s gas and energy sector readiness be raised after a leak, a step that requires higher safety procedures for installations and mechanics. electricity department.