Sweden’s coast guard said on Thursday (September 29) that it discovered the fourth leak in the two damaged offshore pipelines that comprise the crucial Nord Stream pipelines (Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2), designed to carry gas from Russia to Europe via the Baltic sea.
The Danish military on Tuesday released a video of gas bubbles at the surface of the Sea, approximately a kilometre in diameter, near the island of Bornholm. While both pipelines contained gas, neither was transporting it to Europe at the time of the leak.
Nord Stream 1 is a 1,224 km underwater gas pipeline running from Vyborg in northwest Russia to Lubmin in northeastern Germany via the Baltic Sea. The majority owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, it is the primary network through which gas reaches Germany. Most of the gas goes directly to Germany, while the rest travels west and southwards through onshore links to other countries and into storage caverns, according to Reuters.
Gazprom and five other European firms decided to build Nord Stream 2 in 2015, valued at around $11 billion. The 1,200-km pipeline was to run from Ust-Luga in Russia to Greifswald in Germany through the Baltic Sea and carry 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year. It was meant to run along with the Nord Stream 1 system. Germany is Russia’s biggest European gas consumer, and most of it comes through the Nord Stream.
The pipelines have been at the centre of tensions lately. Russia has been accused of leveraging Europe’s dependency on its energy, as retaliation against the Western sanctions imposed on it since the Ukraine war began.
On Monday, Nord Stream’s operators reported a significant pressure drop on both lines of the pipeline, which was later found to be caused by three separate gas leaks from the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines near the Danish island of Bornholm.
The leaks occurred a day before the ceremonial launch of the Baltic Pipe, which carries gas from Norway to Poland, a project that is part of Poland’s attempt to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, according to Reuters.
Sweden had reported two separate underwater explosions on Monday, very close to where the leaks occurred. Björn Lund, a seismologist at the Swedish National Seismic Network, told the media that the seismic activity was caused by explosions and not an earthquake.
While investigations have not yet revealed the cause behind the leaks, leaders from Europe and the United States suspect foul play. They alleged that it was an act of sabotage with three separate leaks and explosions occurring on the very same day.
On Tuesday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen stated that while the leaks were caused by “deliberate actions”, it was not known yet who was behind them.
In a statement issued on Thursday, NATO said the pipeline leaks were likely the “result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage” and pledged a “united and determined response” to any attacks against their allies’ critical infrastructure.
Russia, which controls the pipeline and has been speculated by the West to be behind the attacks, has not ruled out sabotage either. “Obviously, there is some kind of destruction of the pipe, and as for what caused it…we cannot rule out any single way,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
While the EU and the United States have stopped short of explicitly blaming Russia so far, Ukraine and Poland have not been so cautious.
“Gas leak from NS-1 [Nord Stream 1] is nothing more than a terrorist attack planned by Russia and an act of aggression towards the EU. Russia wants to destabilise the economic situation in Europe and cause pre-winter panic,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak tweeted in English.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also invoked sabotage and said it was “an act that probably marks the next stage in the escalation of this situation in Ukraine.”
Moscow has, however, called the allegations against it “predictably stupid and absurd”, blaming the US and its collaborators for the attacks – a charge Washington has denied. “The sanctions were not enough for the Anglo-Saxons: they moved onto sabotage,” Putin said on Friday. “It is hard to believe but it is a fact that they organised the blasts on the Nord Stream international gas pipelines…They began to destroy the pan-European energy infrastructure,” he claimed.
The EU seems to be an unlikely source, as they would not seek to willingly lose out on their energy source.
For the West, Russia would be the likely suspect. Russia has previously reduced its energy exports to Europe in retaliation since the invasion of Ukraine led to sanctions on it. Russia is also under the scanner because the leaks occurred a day before the launch of the Baltic Pipe, which would lessen Poland’s dependence on Russian energy.
However, as the Nord Stream pipelines are majority controlled by Russia’s Gazprom, it is unclear why Moscow would damage the infrastructure it has a majority stake in and spent billions constructing. Europe continues to be heavily dependent on Russian energy and any damage to the pipelines would mean Russia losing its bargaining chip.
Calling the allegations on Russia “stupid”, Peskov, as per a Reuters report, said the damage to the pipelines is “a big problem for us because, firstly, both lines of Nord Stream 2 are filled with gas – the entire system is ready to pump gas and the gas is very expensive…Now the gas is flying off into the air.”
European nations, who want to wean themselves off Russian energy, have increasingly turned towards the US, from whom they purchase liquified natural gas (LNG) that comes via ships. Russia alleges that the US has much to gain from the stoppage of the pipelines, as it can become a larger exporter of energy. However, such an attempt by the United States would carry immense risk and sever the close ties it shares with European countries, especially its own NATO allies.
Various European countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, have launched separate investigations into the matter. Denmark’s Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen said the leaks would continue for at least another week before the gas from the pipelines is exhausted.
Before repairs can begin safe conditions need to be established, including the removal of any gas from the pipeline, as reported by The New York Times. Western sanctions placed on Russia could also complicate these efforts because contractors may not want to do the work. In addition, Gazprom is no longer honouring business commitments and contracts, so it is not clear who would pay the costs.