‘It’s a really big hole’: Sabotage fears rise after gas leaks identified on Nord Stream pipelines 

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By Jorge Liboreiro, euronews.com

27th September 2022 – (Copenhagen) Fears of sabotage are rising after several gas leaks were identified overnight on the Russian-operated Nord Stream pipelines.

Danish and Swedish authorities have issued navigation warnings after two leaks were detected on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which the Kremlin shut down earlier this month for an indefinite period of time in retaliation for Western sanctions.

“This is not a small crack. It’s a really big hole,” said the Danish Energy Agency.

The warnings came shortly after a separate gas leak was detected on a second pipeline, Nord Stream 2, a highly controversial project that was frozen by the German government days prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and never became operational.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said sabotage could not be excluded as an explanation for the events.

“It is too early to conclude yet, but it is an extraordinary situation,” she said. “There are three leaks, and therefore it is difficult to imagine that it could be accidental.”

Frederiksen was speaking in Poland, where she attended the opening ceremony of the Baltic Pipe, a brand new route to carry Norwegian gas to Denmark and Poland.

The coincidence between the ceremony and the leaks fuelled theories of deliberate attacks.

The European Commission said on Tuesday it was still premature to speculate.

“We are following developments very closely,” a Commission spokesperson said, noting the negative impact that methane, the largest component of gas, can have on the environment. “This hasn’t affected our security of supply as of yet.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the news “very concerning” and said no option should be “ruled out right now,” including sabotage.

Neither pipeline is currently carrying gas to Europe, although a certain level of supplies remains inside the infrastructure.

The cause behind the leaks was not immediately clear. An investigation is underway.

“The damage that occurred in one day simultaneously at three lines of off-shore pipelines of the Nord Stream system are unprecedented,” said Nord Stream AG, the consortium responsible for the pipelines. “It is impossible to estimate the timeframe for the recovery of the gas transport infrastructure so far.”

The first leak, through Nord Stream 2, was detected on Monday evening in the pipeline’s Danish section of the Baltic Sea, around the island of Bornholm, after a “major pressure drop.”

The Danish Maritime Authority released a navigational warning and established a prohibition zone within five nautical miles (around 9 km) from the site, considering the leak could pose a danger to naval traffic.

The German government reached out to the Danish authorities to examine the issue.

Hours later, two leaks were identified on different sections of Nord Stream 1: one in the Danish economic zone and another one in the Swedish economic zone of the Baltic Sea.

“Breakage of gas pipelines is extremely rare, and therefore we see reason to raise the preparedness level as a result of the incidents we have seen over the past 24 hours,” said Kristoffer Bötzauw, director of the Danish Energy Agency.

The agency put the country’s energy sector on “orange” alert, the second highest level, and insisted security of supply was not at risk, given the recent closure of Nord Stream 1.

However, leaked gas can entail safety and health consequences for travellers and ignite above water and in the air, causing explosions. Ships may lose buoyancy, the agency noted.

Sweden reacted in a similar manner and issued a navigation warning, asking vessels to keep a “safe distance” from the five nautical mile radius.

The Swedish Maritime Administration also sent a warning for aircraft, introducing a safety altitude of 1,000 metres above the concerned areas.

Germany has equally taken precautionary measures.

“We still have no clarity about the causes and the exact facts,” a spokesperson for Germany’s federal ministry of economic affairs and climate action told Euronews. “A no-fly zone has been established around the area for security reasons – the area is closed to shipping.”

Nord Steam 1 has the capacity to carry up to 170 million cubic metres of gas per day (or 55 billion cubic metres per year). Russia has been accused of manipulating supplies after being hit with six rafts of EU sanctions in the aftermath of the Ukraine war. Flows reached 20% of total capacity in the summer before the pipeline was totally shut down.

Nord Steam 2 was supposed to double this capacity to an annual 110 billion cubic metres, but the project, which drew harsh criticism from Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine, never received authorisation.

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