Nord Stream: Mysterious leaks hit Russian gas pipelines to Europe

European countries rushed on Tuesday to investigate unexplained leaks in two Russian gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, infrastructure at the heart of an energy crisis since Russia invaded Ukraine. .

Several European officials said sabotage appeared to be the likely cause, while Russia – which built the network – did not rule it out.

Norwegian Oil and Energy Minister Terje Aasland said on Tuesday that initial information received about the leaks indicated “acts of sabotage”. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and her Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen both said the incident was likely “deliberate” but downplayed the possibility of a military threat.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “No option can be ruled out at the moment.”

The two 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.

According to the gas pipeline operator Nord Stream AG, it is currently not possible to estimate “a time frame for the restoration of the gas transport infrastructure”.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, he added that pressure drops in the pipeline suggested there had been physical damage.

German, Danish and Scandinavian security authorities were closely monitoring the leaks in the Baltic Sea and investigating their cause, according to German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who also said that German energy supplies had not been affected.

Earlier today, the Swedish Maritime Authority issued a warning about two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, shortly after a leak was discovered on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Neither pipeline was pumping gas to Europe at the time the leaks were discovered, 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. “It is not yet possible to estimate the timeline for the restoration of the gas transmission infrastructure.”

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

Danish Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen said in a written comment that a gas leak was detected on Monday in Nord Stream 2 between Russia and Denmark.

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

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.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that any deliberate act to disrupt Europe’s energy infrastructure was “unacceptable and would lead to the strongest possible response”.

Experts also agreed that the damage could be intentional.

Jakub Godzimirski, a research professor at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs who specializes in Russian energy policy, said the leaks could have been technical malfunctions, but sabotage was a possibility.

“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? »

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 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 spokesman 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 leaks were in a 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 security risk associated with fleeing outside the exclusion zone.

Explosions in an area near Nord Stream pipelines were detected by seismologists on Monday, but it is unclear whether these events were related to the pipelines.

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

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

“Gas pipeline breaks happen extremely rarely… We want to ensure thorough monitoring of Denmark’s critical infrastructure in order to strengthen security of supply in the future,” said the head of the Danish energy agency, Kristoffer. Bottzauw.