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‘Sabotage’: What we know about the Nord Stream gas leaks and who was behind them

Three leaks in the Russia-Germany gas pipelines have been declared sabotage by the EU. Russia is now under suspicion.

Some commentators suggest that the leaks may be linked to the Ukraine war. However, the Kremlin described the accusations as “predictable and stupid”

This is what we know so far about Nord Stream 1 & 2, who might have been responsible, and what’s being done to rectify it.


What has happened?

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Bubbles were seen erupting at the Baltic Sea’s surface between Sweden and Poland on Monday morning around 2 AM local time. They are located approximately 14 miles (23 km) southeast of Bornholm Island, Denmark.

It was reported that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline pressure had dropped overnight to 7 bars from 105 bars. This indicates that there is a leak.

Nord Stream 2 runs 764 miles (1.230km) from Russia through Germany’s Baltic Sea. It was supposed to transport billions of cubic feet gas to Europe. However, Russia invaded Ukraine and Germany refused a license to the operators of the pipeline, making it unusable.

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Denmark sent a military aircraft to inspect the area for leakages and found a dangerous zone of disturbed sea.

Seismologists from neighboring countries confirmed the time of the leak by taking readings. They registered an earthquake magnitude equivalent to 1.8 and triangulated that it occurred almost at the exact same spot where the leak was bubbling to its surface.

A second reading from seismologists northeastern Bornholm was taken 17 hours after the Nord Stream 2 reading. This indicates another incident.

Soon after, Nord Stream AG (the operator of Nord Stream 1) stated that it was investigating the causes of a decrease in pressure in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Again, seismologists’ readings pinpointed the incident at a precise location, approximately 34 miles (55km), northeast of Bornholm Island.

The next morning, the Swedish Maritime Authority warned of two leaks in Nord Stream 1’s pipeline in its and Danish waters. This brought the total number to three.

Nord Stream 1 is a route that runs from Russia to Germany, and was used to transport Russian gas to Europe until the outbreak in the Ukraine war.

Europe was reeling from Vladimir Putin’s invasion and began to cut its dependence on Russian gas. At the same time, the flow through Nord Stream 1 from Russia to Europe decreased until there was no more gas flowing through the pipeline.

The scene was captured from a Danish aircraft. It showed foamy seas up to a kilometre in width.


What are the experts saying

The European countries near to the incident were initially cautious and said that further investigation was necessary.

Operator of the pipelines stated that the leaks were “unprecedented”, but didn’t have an explanation.

The Kremlin quickly stated that sabotage was not possible.

On Tuesday, seismologists who had gathered data on the events said that their analysis showed that the tremors were caused by explosions.

Director of the Swedish National Seismic Network Bjorn Lund stated: “There is no doubt that this isn’t an earthquake.”

Many politicians believed that the damage to the pipes had been caused by human activity, deliberate and not earthquakes, as was the case Wednesday.

Morten Bodskov, the Danish defense minister, stated Wednesday that the pipe burst was not accidental but deliberate.

Image: The bubbling at the surface has been observed by the Swedish and Danish military. Photo: Swedish Coast Guard


Who was responsible

Russia was the first to be suspected. Several commentators wondered who would benefit from ruptures in pipelines. They also noted how this could affect gas prices.

Ukraine immediately blamed Russia, Myhailo podolyak, the presidential advisor, stating that the leak was “a terrorist act planned by Russia and an attack towards the EU”, but he did not provide any evidence.

On Monday, gas prices rose again, in response to Moscow’s threat to sanction Naftogaz, Ukraine’s energy company. This raises the possibility of one of Russia’s last remaining gas supply routes to Europe being shut down.

Many expressed disbelief at Russia’s plans to target infrastructure carrying gas it has sold and threaten its future revenue. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, called such accusations “predictable… stupid”.

There has been speculation that a Russian attack on the pipelines might be a warning to West not to escalate the Ukraine conflict.

The reason is that the pipelines were not in operation at the time, and they supplied Russian gaz. Therefore, it would be less likely that the provocation was seen as an additional significant one.

Russia is becoming increasingly frustrated by the fact that Western-supplied weapons are helping Ukraine resist Moscow’s invasion.

Andrzej Duda, Poland’s President, symbolically opened the valve for a yellow pipe that belonged to the Baltic Pipe. This new system, which sends Norwegian gas across Denmark and the Baltic Sea, to Poland, was inaugurated on Tuesday. He praised it as ending Russia’s dominance in the gas sphere.

Commentators have suggested that although the gas leaks occurred in Denmark’s Exclusive Economic Zones and Sweden’s Exclusive Economic Zones they were not within their territory and could therefore be considered as having taken place in international waters. This would make retaliation more difficult.

Others have pointed out the vulnerability of large networks of pipes under the North Sea. If the leaks were caused by an attack, this would show how easy it is to target undersea infrastructure.

It is not clear what method any potential saboteurs used. Experts in Western countries believe Russia has submarines that can be used to target international internet cables. However, there are some suggestions that the vessel was not within range. Others believe deep sea divers could have planted the device, possibly from Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave.


Where can we find?

Experts predict that the region will be visited by navies from other countries with specialists to conduct investigations.

Bodskov stated that the Danish military has increased its presence in and around Bornholm, and that they will be doing everything possible to clarify this matter. This is happening in close collaboration and cooperation with our partners.

He said that it could take several weeks.

He said, “If you listen the experts about how many gas there are in the pipes and how long before the pressure drops then it might take a week or 14 days before it is quiet enough to see what has occurred.”

An investigation will likely focus on damage to the pipes. They measure around 1,153mm in size with 34mm thick steel walls and are surrounded by more than 110mm concrete.

Image Investigators will likely investigate the damage to the 34mm thick steel pipe and cover it with more concrete if it is submerged.

Peter Faulding is a British underwater forensic investigator whose Specialist Group International has been involved with numerous undersea investigations conducted by UK police. He said that he expects the first investigation to involve remotely operated vehicle (ROVs), also known as drones.

Sky News’s He said that divers will be wary of being near the gas-rich area because there is a lot of gas.

“I think they would be using remote-operated vehicles to go down. An ROV is possible because there are manipulators at the front. An ROV can provide clear images without putting divers in danger if there is any debris.

“More of them are now autonomous. They can send them down with no cable, and can even pick up things from the seabed.

“You would be able to see the result. It will be very hard if it was made with explosive. There will be residuals. There would be fragments.

“They can then perform appropriate forensic tests to determine the explosive used, if any. ”

Faulding has military experience and consults for the energy sector. He said that once the pipelines were safe, the navies might put down divers operating from a diving bell. However, they would need to inhale a special mixture and work in the same way as those working on undersea oil facilities.

He stated that it shouldn’t be difficult to determine which explosive was used, but that it would be very difficult, if it wasn’t impossible, to identify who did the attack.


What are the implications

European leaders expressed concern in the immediate aftermath and promised to investigate.

Although gas markets remained volatile on Tuesday, experts stated that the volatility was more due to Russian fears of stopping shipping gas through Ukraine than because of the possibility that Russia will attack Nord Stream 1 and 2.

Experts said however that this year’s higher gas prices were due to uncertainty.

Image Norway’s extensive oil and gas industry network in the North Sea supplies much of Europe

Sky News’ Tom Marzec Manser, a gas analyst, said that the market opened yesterday bullishly in response to Nord Stream stuff. The market jumped dramatically after the Ukraine development, when Gazprom threatened to impose sanctions. This was actually a bigger wedge of yesterday’s gains. It’s all part of the… loss yet more Russian Gas (being) the main driver of yesterday’s 27% increase in wholesale prices.”

Equinor, Norway’s state-owned oil company, stated that it will increase its preparedness despite doubts from the gas industry about possible attacks spreading.

Equinor has issued an alert that was activated overnight. It applies to all Equinor facilities.

Norway is a major producer offshore oil and natural gas. As European countries struggle to find alternative energy sources to Russia, Norway’s energy exports have soared.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store stated: “We are concerned about taking good care of our oil and gas infrastructures, and we have increased the level of preparedness for them today.”

Lieutenant Commander Tor Ivar Strommen, Royal Norwegian Navy Officer, warned of possible attacks on Norwegian energy exports in the “next half year”.

NATO and the European Union stressed that critical infrastructure must be protected and warned of a “robust, united response” in case of additional attacks.

Reuters was told by Mr Strommen that the Norwegian government must realize that the energy and gas imports from Norway are the most important strategic object in Europe.

“If these deliveries were to be stopped, cut or reduced in large amounts, it would create a complete energy crisis for Europe.”

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