Explosions precede Baltic pipeline leaks, likely sabotage
Denmark believes “deliberate actions” caused large leaks in two gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, and seismologists said powerful explosions preceded the leaks.
European leaders and experts have pointed to possible sabotage amid the energy standoff with Russia sparked by the war in Ukraine. Although filled with gas, neither pipeline currently supplies it to Europe.
“The authorities clearly believe that these are deliberate actions – not accidents,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Tuesday.
But she added “there is no information as to who might be behind this”. Frederiksen dismissed the suggestion that the incident was an attack on Denmark, saying the leaks occurred in international waters.
The incident overshadowed the inauguration of a long-awaited gas pipeline that will bring Norwegian gas to Poland to bolster the continent’s energy independence from Moscow.
The first explosion was recorded early Monday southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm, said Bjorn Lund, director of the Swedish National Seismic Network. A second, stronger explosion northeast of the island that night was equivalent to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake. Seismic stations in Denmark, Norway and Finland also recorded the explosions.
“There’s no doubt this isn’t an earthquake,” Lund said. On Wednesday, Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov will travel to Brussels to discuss the leaks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said Sweden, Germany and Poland had been kept informed and that “we will inform and contact Russia in this matter”. He said Denmark’s foreign intelligence service saw no increased military threat against Denmark after the three leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.
They created a foamy white area on the surface of the water, images published by Denmark’s military show. Danish Energy Minister Dan Jørgensen said “we cannot say how long the leak will last” as the gas has not been shut off. There was no indication of when the gas would be shut off. German pipeline operator Nord Stream AG said it was preparing an investigation to assess the damage.
“Currently, it is not possible to estimate a time frame for the restoration of gas transmission infrastructure,” a company statement said. “The causes of the incident will be clarified following the investigation.” In Sweden, acting Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said “this is probably a case of sabotage”, but not an attack on Sweden.
Andersson added that neighboring oil-rich Norway “told us about the increase in drone activity in the North Sea and what action they have taken in this regard.” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Sweden “(does not rule out) any scenarios and we will not speculate on the motive or the actor”. Leaking natural gas is composed almost entirely of methane, the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. David Hastings, a retired chemical oceanographer from Gainesville, Florida, said much of the gas would rise through the sea and enter the atmosphere. “There’s no doubt that the biggest environmental impact of this is on the climate, because methane is a very potent greenhouse gas,” he said.
According to United Nations data, methane is 82.5 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period because it absorbs heat from the sun so efficiently. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the events “an act of sabotage”. During a ceremony in northwestern Poland, Morawiecki, Frederiksen of Denmark and Polish President Andrzej Duda symbolically opened the valve of a yellow pipe belonging to the Baltic Pipe, a new system sending Norwegian gas through the Denmark to Poland.
“The era of Russian gas dominance is coming to an end,” Morawiecki said. “A time marked by blackmail, threats and extortion.” No official offered evidence of the cause of the leaks, but with mistrust of Russia running high, some feared Moscow had sabotaged its own infrastructure out of spite or as a warning that the pipelines were vulnerable to attack. The leaks raised the stakes over whether energy infrastructure was targeted and caused natural gas prices to rise slightly.
“We can clearly see that this is an act of sabotage, an act that probably signifies a next stage of escalation in the situation we are facing in Ukraine,” Morawiecki said. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod about the apparent sabotage, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price, who reiterated that the United States was determined to promote European energy security.
Anders Puck Nielsen, a researcher at the Maritime Operations Center at the Royal Danish Defense College, said the timing of the leaks was “remarkable” given the Baltic Pipe ceremony. He said someone might be looking “to send a signal that something might happen to Norwegian gas”. The scale of the damage means Nord Stream pipelines are unlikely to be able to transport gas to Europe this winter, even if there was political will to bring them online, analysts at Eurasia Group have said. Russia halted flows on the 1,224 kilometer (760 mile) Nord Stream 1 pipeline during the war, while Germany prevented them from starting in the parallel Nord Stream 2.
“Depending on the extent of the damage, the leaks could even mean a permanent shutdown of both lines,” analysts Henning Gloystein and Jason Bush wrote.
Puck Nielsen said of a possible sabotage that “technically speaking it’s not difficult. It just takes a boat. It requires divers who know how to handle explosive devices.” But I think if we look at who would really benefit from disruption, more chaos in the gas market in Europe, I think there’s basically only one player right now that really benefits from more uncertainty, and that’s Russia.” , did he declare.
When asked if the leaks could have been caused by sabotage, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “no version could be ruled out”. “This is an unprecedented situation that requires urgent investigation. We are extremely concerned about this news,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Danish and Swedish maritime authorities have issued shipping warnings and established a no-ship zone. Vessels can lose buoyancy and there can also be a risk of ignition above water and in the air. Nord Stream gas pipelines have been at the center of an energy dispute between Europe and Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in late February. Falling Russian gas supplies have pushed up prices, prompting governments to ease the pain of sky-high energy bills for homes and businesses as winter approaches. The crisis also raised fears of rationing and a recession.
The Baltic Pipe is a frontrunner in the European Union’s quest for energy security and is due to start delivering Norwegian gas through Denmark and along the Baltic Sea to Poland on October 1.
Simone Tagliapietra, an energy expert at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, speculated that the leaks could have been caused by Russian or anti-Russian sabotage.
One possibility is that Russia signals it is “breaking forever with Western Europe and Germany” as Poland inaugurates its pipeline with Norway, he said.
“In any case, it’s a stark reminder of the risk exposure of Europe’s gas infrastructure,” Tagliapietra said.
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