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Unexplained Nord Stream Leaks Spell Further Trouble for Europe’s Gas Supply Ahead of Winter

Gas leaking from the damaged Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea will continue for up to a week
Published: September 27, 2022
Gas leak at Nord Stream 2 as seen from the Danish F-16 interceptor on Bornholm
Gas leak at Nord Stream 2 as seen from a Danish military F-16 jet interceptor on Bornholm, Denmark September 27, 2022. (Image: Danish Defence Command/Forsvaret Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS)

Three offshore lines of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system on the bed of the Baltic Sea sustained “unprecedented” damage in one day, Nord Stream AG, the operator of the network, said on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

The bulletin was published after Sweden’s Maritime Authority issued a warning about two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, shortly after a leak on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline was discovered that prompted Denmark to restrict shipping in a five-nautical mile radius.

The operator of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline reported a sudden drop in pressure overnight on Monday, Sept. 26, with a spokesperson suggesting there could have been a leak.

Nord Stream AG said it was impossible to estimate when the gas network system’s working capability would be restored.

The Nord Stream 1 leaks were detected to the northeast of Denmark’s Bornholm island.

A map showing the location of gas leaks (white circle on red line) in the Europe-Russian Nord Stream pipeline on Sept. 27, 2022. (Image: Reuters/Screenshot)

Both pipelines have been flashpoints in an escalating energy war between European capitals and Moscow that has pummeled major Western economies, sent gas prices soaring and sparked a hunt for alternative energy supplies.

Danish authorities have imposed a small no-fly zone and asked ships to stay clear by a five nautical mile radius off Bornholm after the leak at Nord Stream 2, which has yet to enter commercial operations. The plan to use it to supply gas was scrapped by Germany days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February.

Nord Stream 1 stopped delivering gas to Europe last month.

Europe is racing to investigate possible sabotage behind the sudden and unexplained leaks in the Russian gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea, the infrastructure at the heart of an energy crisis since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the leaks affected the energy security of the entire continent.

Causes unclear

Neither pipeline was pumping gas to Europe at the time the leaks were found amid the dispute over the war in Ukraine, but the incidents will scupper any remaining expectations that Europe could receive gas via Nord Stream 1 before winter.

Both pipelines still contain gas under pressure.

Analysts and experts say such leaks are very rare and Nord Stream AG has called leaks on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines “unprecedented”.

Possible causes range from technical malfunctions, a lack of maintenance or even possibly sabotage.

The Kremlin has said it did not rule out sabotage as a reason behind the damage, adding it was an issue affecting the energy security of the “entire continent”.

Poland’s prime minister said the leaks were an act of sabotage, while Denmark’s leader said it could not be ruled out.

The European Commission said it was premature to speculate.

German Geology Research Centre GFZ said on Tuesday that a seismograph on Bornholm showed spikes at 0003 GMT and 1700 GMT on Monday, when the pressure losses occurred.

For the Nord Stream 2 leak, the head of Denmark’s Energy Agency Kristoffer Bottzauw told Reuters said it was too early to say who would conduct the investigations and no-one has been to look at the pipeline yet.

In this aerial view the receiving station for the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline stands on March 9, 2022 near Lubmin, Germany. (Image: Christian Ender/Getty Images)

The Swedish Armed Forces, the Coast Guard and the Swedish Maritime Administration and other relevant authorities are taking necessary measures, the Swedish Prime Minister said.

Germany on Monday said it was coordinating a response with police, local officials and the energy agency.

Political impact

Gas leaking from the damaged Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea will continue for several days and perhaps even a week, the Danish Energy Authority said.

Denmark’s armed forces released video showing bubbles rushing to the surface of the Baltic Sea above the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, and said the largest gas leak had caused surface disturbance of well over 1 kilometre in diameter.

Vessels could lose buoyancy if they enter the area, and there might be a risk of leaked gas igniting over the water and in the air, but there were no risks associated with the leak outside the exclusion zone, it said.

The leak would only affect the environment in the area in which the gas plume in the water column is located and escaping greenhouse gas methane would have a damaging climate impact.

Danish authorities asked that the level of preparedness in Denmark’s power and gas sector be raised after the leaks, a step that would require heightened safety procedures for power installations and facilities.

By Reuters. (Reporting by Nina Chestney and Reuters bureaux; Editing by Alexander Smith.)