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Leaks on Russian gas pipelines raise concerns about sabotage

The leaks emerged off the coast of Denmark and Sweden, raising the stakes on whether energy infrastructure in European waters was being targeted and leading to a small bump in natural gas prices.

Security walks in front of the landfall facility of the Baltic Sea gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 in Lubmin, Germany, September 19, 2022. (REUTERS/File)

A series of unusual leaks on two natural gas pipelines running from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany triggered concerns about possible sabotage Tuesday, overshadowing the inauguration of a long-awaited pipeline in Poland that will bring Norwegian gas to Europe in efforts to bolster energy independence from Moscow.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she “cannot rule out” sabotage after three leaks were detected over the past day on Nord Stream 1 and 2. The pipelines are not bringing gas to Europe as an energy standoff over Russia’s war in Ukraine halted flows or never allowed them to begin. However, gas still fills the lines.

Frederiksen joined Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in opening a valve of a yellow pipe belonging to the Baltic Pipe, a new system that will bring Norway’s gas across Denmark and the Baltic Sea to Poland.

No official presented evidence of what caused the problems, but in central Europe where distrust of Russia runs high, there were fears Moscow sabotaged its own infrastructure in a gesture of spite or to signal that all pipelines are vulnerable to attack.

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The leaks emerged off the coast of Denmark and Sweden, raising the stakes on whether energy infrastructure in European waters was being targeted and leading to a small bump in natural gas prices.

A Polish government official said he would not rule out the possibility of Russian “provocations.” “I cannot exclude any scenario. We are in a situation of high international tension,” said Marcin Przydacz, a deputy foreign minister.

“Unfortunately, our eastern neighbor is pursuing an aggressive policy all the time.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the leaks “very alarming.” “This is an unprecedented situation that requires an urgent investigation. We are extremely worried by this news,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

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Asked if the accident may have been caused by an act of sabotage, Peskov said that “no version could be excluded.”

Because the pipelines aren’t actively sending gas to Europe, the leaks did not pose any threat to energy supplies, and experts said the environmental impact would be limited. With the continent needing gas to heat homes, generate electricity and run factories, the energy crisis provoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine threatens rationing, business shutdowns and possible recession this winter.

It was “highly unusual for gas leaks like this to happen,” said Kristian Rune Poulsen, energy analyst at Green Power Denmark, but “the market has long been set on us not receiving Russian gas. Therefore, the gas leaks do not fundamentally change the situation.”

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Polish energy expert Andrzej Sikora said he has been warning of the “possibility of attacks on the infrastructure” since the construction of Nord Stream 1 in 2010. The significant drop in pressure caused by the leaks was clearly not the result of “a bad weld,” said Sikora, head of the Energy Studies Institute think tank.

Danish authorities said Monday that a leak was detected in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which has never been used. They later announced a major pressure drop on the parallel Nord Stream 1, which until recently has been a key source of gas to Germany.

The Swedish Maritime Administration said Tuesday that two leaks were discovered on Nord Stream 1, which partly runs in Swedish waters. Danish authorities also have confirmed the leaks.

The Danish Maritime Authority issued a navigation warning and established a prohibited area to ensure that ships do not go near the leaks. Ships may lose buoyancy if they sail into the area, and there may also be a risk of ignition above the water and in the air, the Danish authorities said.

Swedish authorities sent out similar warnings. The leaks in the pipelines have been detected northeast and southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm. The pipelines have been at the center of an energy war between Europe and Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

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A plunge in Russian gas supplies has caused energy prices to soar, pressuring governments to help ease the pain of sky-high gas and electric bills for households and businesses as winter nears.

European countries have been struggling to find other sources of gas. Poland, for example, was already on track to free itself of Russian gas after working for years to find other sources, including imports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from the United States and Middle East.

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Germany, in contrast, is only now racing to quickly build LNG terminals. Baltic Pipe is a prominent project in the bid for energy security and is to start bringing Norwegian gas through Denmark and along the Baltic Sea to Poland on Oct. 1.

Sikora, the Polish energy analyst, has been urging steps to ensure the security of the Baltic Pipe, which at one point crosses paths with both Nord Stream pipelines. Despite Russia cutting off Nord Stream 1, gas storage has progressed in recent weeks in Germany and other parts of Europe.

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“We do not see any impact on the security of supply,” the German economy ministry said, referring to the pressure drop in Nord Stream 1. “Storage levels continue to rise steadily. They are currently at about 91%.”

First published on: 27-09-2022 at 05:43:16 pm
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