Europe suspects sabotage as mysterious gas leaks hit two Russian pipelines

The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline terminal in Lubmin, northeastern Germany, November 8, 2011.JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

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

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the leaks were caused by sabotage, while the Danish prime minister and Russia, which cut gas supplies to Europe after Western sanctions, said it could not. be excluded. But who could be behind any foul play, if proven, and a motive was far from clear.

Sweden’s maritime authority has issued a warning about two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, the day after a leak was discovered on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline that prompted Denmark to restrict shipping and impose a small zone air exclusion.

Both pipelines have been flashpoints in a growing energy war between European capitals and Moscow that has hit major Western economies, sent gas prices skyrocketing and sparked a hunt for alternative energy sources.

“Today we were confronted with an act of sabotage, we do not know all the details of what happened, but we clearly see that it is an act of sabotage, linked to the next stage of escalation of the situation in Ukraine,” Mateusz Morawiecki told a press conference. the opening of a new gas pipeline between Norway and Poland.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said sabotage could not be ruled out. “We’re talking about three leaks with some distance between them, and that’s why it’s hard to imagine it being a coincidence,” she said.

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

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

“The destruction that occurred on the same day simultaneously to three offshore gas pipeline strings of the Nord Stream system is unprecedented,” said network operator Nord Stream AG.

Although neither is in service, both pipelines still contained gas under pressure.

Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled company that has a monopoly on Russian gas exports via pipeline, declined to comment.

“There are indications that this is deliberate damage,” said a European security source, while adding that it was still too early to draw conclusions. “You have to ask yourself: who would benefit? »

A second European source, when asked if there was any specific intelligence pointing to sabotage, said: “Not specific yet, but it appears that this pressure failure can only occur when a pipe is completely cut in. Which pretty much says it all.

Russia cut gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1 before completely suspending flows in August, blaming Western sanctions for causing technical difficulties. European politicians say it was a pretext to cut off the gas supply.

The new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline had not yet entered into commercial operation. Plans to use it to supply gas were dropped by Germany days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February.

A note from Eurasia Group said unplanned leaks in undersea pipelines were rare.

“The multiple subsea leaks mean that none of the pipelines is likely to deliver gas to the EU over the next winter, regardless of the political evolution of the war in Ukraine,” he said. “Depending on the extent of the damage, the leaks could even mean a permanent closure of both lines.”

Gas prices in Europe rose on news of the leaks, with the Dutch October benchmark price rising nearly 10% on Tuesday. Prices are still below stratospheric peaks this year, but remain more than 200% higher than at the start of September 2021.

“(Of) concern is the safety aspect of pipelines across the EU as this appears to be sabotage…and will only exacerbate supply issues for the coming winter,” said Timothy Crump , an analyst at Refinitiv.

The leaks occurred just before Tuesday’s ceremonial launch of the Baltic Pipe carrying gas from Norway to Poland, a centerpiece of Warsaw’s efforts to diversify away from Russian supplies.

The Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) had also urged oil companies on Monday to be vigilant of unidentified drones seen flying near Norwegian offshore oil and gas platforms, warning of possible attacks.

A spokesperson for the Swedish Maritime Administration (SMA) said there were two leaks on Nord Stream 1, one in the Swedish economic zone and another in the Danish zone, adding that both were in an area northeast of the Danish island of Bornholm.

“We are providing additional monitoring to ensure that no vessel comes too close to the site,” a second SMA spokesperson said.

Vessels could lose buoyancy if they enter the area, and there could be a risk of leaking gas igniting above water and in the air, the Danish state agency said. energy, adding that there was no risk associated with fleeing outside the exclusion zone.

The leak would only affect the environment in the area where the gas plume is located in the water column, he said, adding that the escape of the greenhouse gas methane would have a adverse impact on the climate.

Danish authorities have called for the preparedness level of the Danish electricity and gas sector to be raised after the leaks, a step that would require enhanced safety procedures for electrical installations and facilities.