Mysterious leaks hit Russian undersea gas lines, raising European suspicions

Mysterious leaks hit Russian undersea gas lines, raising European suspicions

By Anna Ringstrรถm and Sten Jacobsen

STOCKHOLM/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – European countries raced on Tuesday to investigate unexplained leaks in two Russian gas pipelines that run under the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, infrastructure at the center of an energy crisis since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Experts and Russia, which built the network, said the possibility of sabotage could not be ruled out.

The Swedish Maritime Authority issued a warning about two leaks in Nord Stream 1 pipeline, shortly after discovering a leak in the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline prompting Denmark to restrict shipping to a five nautical mile radius.

The two pipelines formed a flashpoint in the escalating energy war between European capitals and Moscow that has hit major Western economies, driven up gas prices and sparked the search for alternative energy supplies.

“There are some indications that this was intentional damage,” a European security source said, adding that it was too early to draw conclusions. โ€œYou have to ask: Who wins?โ€

Russia also said the leak in the Russian network was a cause for concern and sabotage was one possible cause. “No option can be ruled out at the moment,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Neither pipeline was pumping gas to Europe at the time the leaks were discovered amid the row over the war in Ukraine, but the incidents will thwart any remaining expectations that Europe might receive gas via Nord Stream 1 before winter.

โ€œThe destruction that occurred on the same day at the same time on three chains of offshore gas pipelines for the Nord Stream system is unprecedented,โ€ said network operator Nord Stream AG. “It is not yet possible to estimate the timing of the restoration of the gas transmission infrastructure.”

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Although neither pipeline is in operation, both pipelines still contain gas under pressure.

Danish Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen said in a written comment that a gas leak was detected in Nord Stream 2 on Monday between Russia and Denmark.

Gazprom (MCX:), the Kremlin-controlled company that has a monopoly on Russian gas exports via pipelines, declined to comment.

Russia cut gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1 before completely suspending flows in August, blaming Western sanctions for causing technical difficulties. European politicians say this was an excuse to cut off the gas supply.

The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline has not yet entered commercial operations. Germany canceled the plan to use the gas supply days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February.

Malfunction or labour?

Jacob Godzimirsky, a research professor at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs who specializes in Russian energy policy, said the leaks could be technical malfunctions, but said sabotage was a possibility.

The leaks occurred ahead of Tuesday’s ceremonial launch of the Baltic Pipeline, which carries gas from Norway to Poland, the centerpiece of Warsaw’s efforts to diversify Russian supply sources.

Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority urged oil companies on Monday to be vigilant about unidentified drones seen flying near Norwegian oil and gas platforms, warning of possible attacks.

A spokesperson for the Swedish Maritime Administration (SMA) said there were two leaks in Nord Stream 1, one in the Swedish economic zone and the other in the Danish region, adding that both leaks were in the northeastern region of the Danish island of Bornholm.

A second SMA spokesperson said: “We are monitoring further to make sure no ship approaches the site.”

The Danish Energy Agency said that ships could lose their buoyancy if they enter the area, and there may be a risk of ignition of gas leaking above the water and into the air, adding that there are no security risks associated with leakage outside the exclusion zone.

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The leak will only affect the environment locally, which means that only the area where the gas column is in the water column will be affected, she said, adding that escaping the greenhouse gas methane will have a detrimental effect on the climate.

The Danish authorities asked to raise the level of Denmark’s readiness for the electricity and gas sector after the leaks, a step that requires strict safety measures for energy facilities and facilities.

โ€œGas pipeline breaches rarely happen… We want to ensure comprehensive monitoring of Denmarkโ€™s critical infrastructure in order to enhance the security of supplies in the future,โ€ said Christopher Botzau, head of the Danish Energy Agency.

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