What we know about the mysterious pipeline leak between Russia and Europe

Earlier this week, three separate leaks discovered in two giant natural gas pipelines from Russia. The pipelines were full of fuel, and the cracks created air bubbles half a mile wide, which rose to the surface of the Baltic Sea, near the Danish island of Bornholm.

Explosions were detected nearby shortly before the leak occurred, and European governments have yet to determine what caused the leak in the pipelines, known as Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2. Political leaders in Europe and the United States have called the incident an act of vandalism.

Speculation has pointed to Russia, where the state-controlled energy company, Gazprom, is the main owner of the pipelines. Spokesman for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Dmitri S. Peskov, dismissed accusations of Russian involvement as “stupid” and pointed a finger at the United States.

The situation bears the mark of a spy thriller. But analysts say damage the pipes could be a significant escalation in the proxy energy war has been waged since fighting began in Ukraine – a battle that could have dire consequences for millions of homes and businesses across Europe. Indeed, anyone damaging the pipeline may want to show Europeans that “nowhere is safe,” said Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets.

Two main lines were built to bring gas under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

Nord Stream 1started operating in 2011, until recently was the main conduit for bring gas to Germany – enough to provide more than half of the country’s annual consumption and still transfer some to neighboring countries. The pipeline is about 760 miles long, most of it under water.

Construction was completed last year on a second line, Nord Stream 2, which is intended to double those flows, providing a large, modern route into Northwest Europe. But it never fully worked: The German government put the project on hold in February, just as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

In spite of European countries have cut natural gas consumption to reply expensive and requirements from their governments, fuel is still of vital importance to heat homes and keep businesses running.

Neither pipeline was actively transporting gas at the time of the incident. Gazprom recently retuned Nord Stream 1, due to technical issues. Critics have dismissed the move as political by Russia as the fighting in Ukraine drags on.

In some respects, disrupting pipelines serves little immediate purpose to anyone.

And, on the surface, it’s not clear why Moscow would seek to sabotage the installations that cost Gazprom billions of dollars to build and maintain. The leaks are expected to delay any ability to receive revenue from fuel going through the pipelines.

On the other hand, the natural gas market is in turmoil, which helps Russia by raising its gas prices. On Monday, gas futures prices in Europe fell by almost half from their highs in August. After news of the leak, they jumped almost 20% to about 205 euros ($191) per megawatt-hour, almost five times the level of a year ago.

After many months increase and volatilityThe energy market has recently begun to calm down as optimism grows Europe can avoid shortages this winter by sourcing and filling gas storage facilities.

The rift could also be a reminder from Moscow that if European countries continue to back Ukraine, they risk sabotaging vital energy infrastructure. Experts have warned for years about the dangers posed by potential attacks. Any disruption could cause trouble, according to analysts, as European countries that depend on Russian gas, such as Germany and Austria, have few flaws.

Over the last year, Gazprom and Russia have taken steps such as changing flows on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which analysts say is intended to increase political tensions and energy prices.

Massimo Di Odoardo, vice president of gas research at Wood Mackenzie, an energy consulting firm, said the incident sent chills to markets as it presented a “risk of disruption” to utilities. pipeline is not controlled by Russia.

Damaged pipelines are spewing natural gas, which is largely composed of methane, a central cause of global warming.

According to Kristoffer Böttzauw, head of the Danish Energy Agency, as of Wednesday, more than half of the fuel in the pipelines had leaked out. By Sunday, all could be gone.

Mr. Böttzauw added that the damage from the leak could amount to the equivalent of 32% of Denmark’s annual emissions.

Antoine Rostand, co-founder of Kayrros, which uses satellites to track methane leaks from oil wells and gas processing facilities, estimates that damaged pipelines have released a significant amount. methane in a day for the global oil and gas industry.

Scientists hope that the gas that is reaching the surface and dispersing into the atmosphere will not have a major impact on plant and animal life in the waters surrounding the leak.

The pipes are constructed of concrete coated steel to be able to withstand underwater pressure. In other words, it takes a lot of force to damage them.

“A gas leak like this is extremely rare,” said Mr. Böttzauw. “It is unlikely that there will be three gas leaks in a single crash within 24 hours.”

Swedish seismologists on Monday detected two separate underwater explosions near where the leak was later identified. Both Nord Stream 1’s lines were down, while only one Nord Stream 2’s was broken, meaning that at least in theory, gas could flow through the second wire.

Hans Liwang, a professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, said examining the size of the crater on the seafloor and the damage to the pipes could provide answers about the size of the charge. explosions and the location of the explosions.

He told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet: “We were able to find out where this explosive device was located by looking at the marks on the bottom.

But he added that the gas leak could have blown away important evidence, especially if, as some have speculated, the sabotage was carried out using drones or divers. Underwater.

Danish authorities said on Wednesday that a criminal investigation was underway to determine the cause of the rupture. Once completed, it is unclear how long it will take to repair the damage.

An official at a European pipeline company said work can only proceed after safe conditions have been established, including the removal of gas or seawater from the pipeline.

Western sanctions against Russia could also complicate cleanup and repair efforts as contractors may not want to do the work. In addition, Gazprom no longer honors its commitments and business contracts, so it is not clear who will pay the costs.

Although Russia has restricted exports, its natural gas still flows to Europe via Ukraine and other pipelines. If the war in Ukraine continues to take a turn for the worse for Moscow, Gazprom can put pressure on it by reducing this supply.

Another network of pipelines from Algeria, Libya and Azerbaijan all sustain the economies of European countries and could be vulnerable to sabotage along their vast lengths. Whoever caused the Nord Stream pipeline failure can send a message to Norway, which has replaced Russia as a major gas pipeline supplier to the European Union. Norway is also an important gas supplier to the UK.

It may not be a coincidence that a pipeline from Norway to Poland known as the Baltic Pipe opened on Tuesday. It was conceived to reduce Warsaw’s dependence on Russia and get close to where the leak was.

Energy became the battlefield in the Ukraine war. Mr. Putin has shown that he is willing to sever business ties with countries like Germany, which take decades to establish, in the hope of being able to mold them to his will.

And, as the fighting progressed, energy infrastructure in Ukraine has been repeatedly targeted by Russia.

After losing to Ukraine’s offensive this month, Russia launched a series of missile and missile attacks on Ukrainian power plants and the country’s power grid. Also this month, a Russian missile struck just over 300 meters from the Southern Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, according to Ukraine’s state nuclear power company, Energoatom.

During the summer, Ukrainian officials accused the Russian Army of targeting a tense section of power lines connecting another nuclear complex, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, to the Ukrainian power grid. They say the motive is to deprive the Ukrainian plant of electrical energy.

The pipeline attack could be another step on the road to energy war. “It’s clearly an escalation of the conflict that is really scary,” said Mr Rostand, chief executive of Kayrros.

Stanley Reed Reported from London, Report contributed by Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv, Ukraine; Melissa Eddy from Berlin; Christina Anderson from Bastad, Sweden; and Jasmina Nielsen from Copenhagen.

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