2022 Nord Stream pipeline sabotage

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On 26 September 2022, a series of clandestine bombings and subsequent underwater gas leaks occurred on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines. Both pipeline pairs were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, and are majority owned by the Russian majority state-owned gas company, Gazprom. The sabotage happened as the alternative Baltic Pipe was being opened for natural gas to come in from the North Sea through Denmark to Poland. The perpetrators' identities and the motives behind the sabotage remain debated.

2022 Nord Stream gas pipe sabotage
Nord Stream gas leaks 2022.svg
Map showing the location of the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipeline explosions near Bornholm. The two run close to each other most of the way, but deviate near the sites of the sabotage.[1]
Date26 September 2022
LocationCentral Baltic Sea, near Bornholm, Denmark
Coordinates
Type
CauseSabotage[4][5][6][7]
MotiveUnknown
TargetNord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2
PerpetratorUnknown
First reporterNord Stream AG
Property damage
  • Both A and B pipes of NS1 are inoperable
  • Pipe A of NS2 is inoperable. Pipe B remains undamaged.

Prior to the leaks, the pipelines had not been operating due to disputes between Russia and the European Union in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but were filled with natural gas. On 26 September at 02:03 local time (CEST), an explosion was detected originating from Nord Stream 2; a pressure drop in the pipeline was reported and natural gas began escaping to the surface southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm. Seventeen hours later, the same occurred to Nord Stream 1, resulting in three separate leaks northeast of Bornholm.[8][9] All three affected pipes were rendered inoperable; Russia has confirmed one of the two Nord Stream 2 pipes is operable and is thus ready to deliver gas through Nord Stream 2.[10] The leaks occurred one day after Poland and Norway opened the Baltic Pipe running through Denmark, bringing in gas from the North Sea, rather than from Russia as the Nord Stream pipelines do.[11][12] The leaks are located in international waters (not part of any nation's territorial sea), but within the economic zones of Denmark and Sweden.[13]

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that the leaks were caused by deliberate action, not accidents, and specified that explosions had been recorded.[14] Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said that it likely was sabotage,[15] a view that was also expressed by European Union officials and the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.[4][16][17] The theory of sabotage is backed up by photos taken by the German Federal Police, which show an 8-metre-long (26 ft) leak that could only have been caused by an explosive device, according to Federal Government circles.[18] Earlier, several commentators had suggested that the circumstances surrounding the leaks appeared to be suspicious and they had possibly been acts of sabotage.[19][20][21][22]

Nord Stream AG, the Gazprom-owned operator of Nord Stream, said the pipelines had sustained "unprecedented" damage in one day.[23] On 29 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attack on the pipeline "an unprecedented act of international terrorism".[24][25]

On 18 November, Swedish authorities concluded that the leaks were caused by an act of sabotage, after finding remains of explosives on the pipes.[6][7]

Background

The United States has been a major opponent of the Nord Stream pipelines. Former US President Donald Trump said in 2019 that Nord Stream 2 could turn Europe into a "hostage of Russia" and placed sanctions on any company assisting Russia to complete the pipeline.[26] In December 2020, then President Elect Joe Biden came out forcefully against the opening of the new pipeline and the impact this would have on potential Russian influence. In early 2022 it was reported that, while the Biden administration was "unwavering" in opposition to Nord Stream 2, it is "in the national interest of the United States" to waive these sanctions, mainly to appease European allies of the US, particularly Germany.[27]

Timeline

The Geological Survey of Denmark said that a seismometer on Bornholm showed two spikes on 26 September: the first P wave at 02:03 local time (CEST) had a magnitude of 2.3 and the second at 19:03 had a magnitude of 2.1.[28] Similar data was provided by a seismometer at Stevns, and by several seismometers in Germany, Sweden (as far away as the station in Kalix 1,300 kilometres or 810 miles north), Finland and Norway.[29] The seismic data was characteristic of underwater explosions, not natural events, and showed that they happened near the locations where the leaks were later discovered.[30][28][31] Around the same time, pressure in the non-operating pipeline dropped from 10.50 to 0.70 megapascals (105 to 7 bar), as recorded by Nord Stream in Germany.[32][30][33]

After Germany's initial report of pressure loss in Nord Stream 2, a gas leak from the pipeline was discovered by a Danish F-16 interceptor response unit to the southeast of Dueodde, Bornholm.[34][35] Nord Stream 2 consists of two parallel lines and the leak happened in line A inside the Danish economic zone.[36] Citing danger to shipping, Danish Maritime Authority closed the sea for all vessels in a 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi) zone around the leak site, and advised planes to stay at least 1,000 m (3,300 ft) above it.[35][37] The pipe, which was not operating, had 300 million cubic metres (11 billion cubic feet) of pressurized gas in preparation for its first deliveries.[38]

An environmental impact assessment of NS2 was made in 2019. By 2012, corrosion leaks had only occurred in two large pipelines worldwide. Leaks due to military-type acts and mishaps were considered "very unlikely". The largest leak in the analysis was defined as a "full-bore rupture (>80 mm [3.1 in])", for example from a sinking ship hitting the pipeline. Such an unlikely large leak from 54 metres (177 ft) water depth could result in a gas plume up to 15 metres (49 ft) wide at the surface.[39]

For NS2, the pipes have an outer diameter of approximately 1,200 millimetres (48 inches) and a steel wall thickness of 27–41 millimetres (1.1–1.6 in) – thickest at the pipe ingress where operating pressure is 22 megapascals (220 bar) and thinnest at the pipe egress where operating pressure is 17.7 megapascals (177 bar), when transporting gas. To weigh down the pipe (to ensure negative buoyancy), a 60–110-millimetre (2.4–4.3 in) layer of concrete surrounds the steel.[40] Each line of the pipeline was made of about 100,000 concrete-weight coated steel pipes each weighing 24 tonnes (53,000 lb) welded together and laid on the seabed. To facilitate pigging, the pipelines have a constant internal diameter of 1,153 millimetres (45.4 in), according to Nord Stream. Sections lie at a depth of around 80–110 metres (260–360 ft).[32]

 
Stack of pipes that make up the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, made from steel with a concrete casing

Hours after the German office of Nord Stream AG had reported pressure loss in Nord Stream 1, two gas leaks were discovered on that pipeline by Swedish authorities.[31][41] Both parallel lines of Nord Stream 1 are ruptured and the sites of its two leaks are about 6 km (3.7 mi) from each other, with one in the Swedish economic zone and the other in the Danish economic zone.[9][36] On 28 September, the Swedish Coast Guard clarified that the initially reported leak in the Swedish economic zone actually was two leaks located near each other, bringing the total number of leaks on the Nord Stream pipes to four (two in the Swedish economic zone, two in the Danish).[9][42]

While none of the pipelines were delivering supplies to Europe, both Nord Stream 1 and 2 were pressurized with gas.[43]

Danish Defence posted a video of the gas leak on their website which showed that, as of 27 September, the largest of the leaks created turbulence on the water surface of approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) in diameter. The smallest leak made a circle of about 200 metres (660 ft) in diameter.[34] Analysts noted the much larger plumes as an indication that the rupture is very large,[29] compared to a presumed technical leak plume of 15 metres (49 ft).[39]

The SwePol power cable (between Sweden and Poland) passes between two of the leak sites at 500 metres (1,600 ft) distance,[clarification needed] and is being investigated for damage.[44][needs update]

Swedish Navy ships were scouting for two days in nearby proximity where Nord Stream 1 and 2 were later subjected to sabotage. The search was carried out between Thursday and Saturday, but from the night of Sunday to Monday, no Swedish ships were at the site.[45][46]

On 1 October, the Danish Energy Agency reported that one of the two pipelines, Nord Stream 2, appeared to have stopped leaking gas as the pressure inside the pipe had stabilized.[47] The following day, the same agency reported that the pressure had stabilized in both Nord Stream 1 pipelines as well, indicating that the leakage had stopped.[48] In contrast, Swedish authorities reported on 2 October that gas continues to escape from the two leaks in their economic zone, albeit to a lesser extent than a few days ago.[49]

The leaks

2022 Nord Stream leaks
Pipe Location Comment
Nord Stream 2 pipe A exclusive economic zone of Denmark discovered by a Danish F-16 interceptor response unit to the southeast of Dueodde, Bornholm
Nord Stream 2 pipe A exclusive economic zone of Sweden discovered on that pipeline by Swedish authorities
Nord Stream 1 pipe A exclusive economic zone of Sweden discovered on that pipeline by Swedish authorities
Nord Stream 1 pipe B exclusive economic zone of Denmark discovered on that pipeline by Swedish authorities

Cause

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said that it likely was sabotage and also mentioned the detonations.[15] The Geological Survey of Denmark said that the tremors that had been detected were unlike those recorded during earthquakes, but similar to those recorded during explosions.[50] The Swedish public service broadcaster SVT reported that measuring stations in both Sweden and Denmark recorded strong underwater explosions near the Nord Stream pipelines. Björn Lund, Associate Professor in Seismology at The Swedish National Seismic Network (SNSN) said "there is no doubt that these were explosions" at an estimated 100-kilogram (220 lb) TNT equivalent.[31] European Union officials blamed sabotage, as did the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, and the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki.[16][17][51]

The Kremlin said that it did not rule out sabotage as a reason for the damage to the Nord Stream pipelines.[52] Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said: "We cannot rule out any possibility right now. Obviously, there is some sort of destruction of the pipe. Before the results of the investigation, it is impossible to rule out any option."[53][54]

The German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel wrote that the leaks are being investigated for whether they may have been caused by targeted attacks by submarine or clearance divers.[55]

According to German Federal Government circles, photos taken by the Federal Police with the support of the navy show a leak 8 metres (26 ft) long, which could only be the result of explosives.[18]

On 11 November 2022, Wired reported that satellite imagery revealed two large unidentified ships which had turned off their AIS trackers and had appeared around the site of the leaks in the days before the gas leaks were detected.[56]

On 18 November Swedish authorities announced that remains of explosives were found at the site of the leaks, and confirmed that the incident was the result of sabotage.[6][7]

Speculation

 
Major existing and planned natural gas pipelines supplying Russian gas to Europe in 2021, including the Yamal–Europe, Brotherhood, TurkStream, Blue Stream and Nord Stream pipelines through Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey and Germany.

Swedish and Danish Prime Ministers were both unwilling to speculate on who was responsible for the incidents.[57]

Der Spiegel reported that the United States Central Intelligence Agency had warned the German government of possible sabotage to the pipelines weeks beforehand.[58]

Involvement by Russia

CNN reported that European security officials observed Russian Navy support ships nearby where the leaks later occurred on 26 and 27 September. One week prior, Russian submarines were also observed nearby.[59]

Finland's national public broadcasting company Yle compared the incident to the two explosions on a gas pipeline in North Ossetia in January 2006, which were caused by remote-controlled military-grade charges.[60] The explosions halted Russian gas supply to Georgia after the country had started seeking NATO membership.[60]

In December 2022, The Washington Post reported that after months of investigation, there was no conclusive evidence that Russia was behind the attack, and many European and US officials no longer suspected that Russia was involved.[61]

Involvement by the United States

In a widely shared post on Twitter,[62] Polish MEP and former foreign affairs and defence minister Radek Sikorski stated simply, "Thank you, USA", next to a photo of bubbling water above the pipeline damage. He followed this up with tweets in which he clarified that this was only speculation on his part,[63] and that his view was based in part on a February joint press conference of United States President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, during which Biden stated, "If Russia invades ... again, there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it. ... I promise you we will be able to do it."[64][65] Sikorski's post was criticized by many politicians and government officials. Polish government spokesman Piotr Müller said it was harmful and served Russian propaganda.[63] US State Department spokesman Ned Price responded by saying, "The idea that the United States was in any way involved in the apparent sabotage of these pipelines is preposterous."[66] Der Spiegel commented that Nord Stream 2 was already stopped two days before Russia invaded Ukraine, stopped entirely without explosives, and that what happened is exactly what Biden and Scholz had said would happen.[67] Sikorski deleted the original and all follow-up tweets several days later.[66]

At a United Nations Security Council meeting convened for the incident, Russian Federation representative Vasily Nebenzya suggested that the United States was involved in the pipeline damage. Nebenzya referenced June 2022 NATO operations (BALTOPS) around Bornholm including tests of underwater vehicles in the area, claimed that open data showed US helicopter flight paths coincided with the gas pipelines, and that USS Kearsarge did not depart the region until 20 September 2022.[68][non-primary source needed] Adding that "the current energy crisis in Europe is objectively increasing the competitiveness of United States energy producers".[69][70] Richard Mills, representative of the United States, responded by denying any involvement in the damage and dismissed Nebenzya's claims as "Russian disinformation and conspiracy theories".[69] Deutsche Welle fact check concluded that the Russian claim "that an American helicopter was responsible for the gas leaks is untenable and misleading." The helicopter never flew along the pipeline and the gas leak areas were at least 9 and 30 km away, respectively, from its flight path.[71][72]

On 2 February 2023, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Russian state television the U.S. had direct involvement in the explosions intended to help preserve U.S. global dominance.[65]

Involvement by other countries

The Asia Times conjectured that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Ukraine, and the US could potentially benefit from damaging the pipelines, but for various reasons, it was unlikely any of these countries carried out the sabotage.[73]

On 29 October 2022, Russia accused a unit of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy of sabotaging the gas pipeline. This claim was denied by the UK Ministry of Defence which released a statement saying: "To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defence is resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale".[74]

In late 2022, the former head of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service August Hanning said Ukraine, Poland and Britain had a plausible interest in disabling the pipelines, as well as the U.S.[65]

Investigations

The day after the leaks occurred, the Swedish Police Authority opened an investigation of the incident, calling it "major sabotage". The investigation is conducted in cooperation with other relevant authorities as well as the Swedish Security Service.[75] A similar investigation was opened in Denmark. The two nations were in close contact, and had also been in contact with other countries in the Baltic region and NATO.[15][76] Because it happened within international waters (not part of any nation's territorial sea, although within the Danish and Swedish economic zones), neither the Danish Prime Minister nor the Swedish Prime Minister regarded it as an attack on their nation.[14][15] On 2 October, Nancy Faeser, German Minister of the Interior and Community, announced that Germany, Denmark and Sweden intend to form a joint investigation team to investigate these seeming acts of sabotage.[5]

Russia reportedly dispatched naval vessels to join Swedish and Danish maritime experts at the leak sites. Foreign Policy reported that since the pipelines are Russian-state owned and since the sabotage is not considered a military attack, investigations may be complicated by Russian involvement.[77] Moscow has demanded to be part of the investigations by Denmark and Sweden, but both countries have refused, telling Russia to conduct its own investigations.[78]

On 6 October, the Swedish Security Service said its preliminary investigations in the Swedish exclusive economic zone showed extensive damage and they "found evidence of detonations",[79] strengthening "the suspicions of serious sabotage".[80]

On 10 October, the German Public Prosecutor General launched an investigation into suspected intentional causing of an explosion and anti-constitutional sabotage. The procedure is directed against unknown persons. According to the federal authority, it is responsible because it was a serious violent attack on the energy supply. This is likely to impair Germany's external and internal security. The Federal Criminal Police Office and the Federal Police were commissioned to investigate.[81] The Federal Police had already started an investigative mission with assistance from the German Navy. Investigators took photos with a Navy underwater drone that show a leak 8 metres (26 ft) long. This could only have been caused by explosives, it was said in government circles.[18]

On 14 October, Russia's foreign ministry summoned German, Danish and Swedish envoys to express "bewilderment" over the exclusion of Russian experts from investigations and protesting the United States reported participation, saying that Russia would not recognise any "pseudo-results" without the involvement of its own experts.[82]

Also on 14 October, the Swedish prosecutor announced that Sweden would not set up a joint investigation team with Denmark and Germany because that would transfer information related to Swedish national security. German public broadcaster ARD also reported that Denmark had rejected a joint investigation team.[83] On 18 November, the Swedish Security Service concluded that the incident was an act of "gross sabotage", stating that traces of explosives were found on the pipes.[84] Also on 18 October, the Swedish newspaper Expressen released photos of the Nord Stream 1 damage it had commissioned, showing at least 50 m (160 ft) of pipe missing from its trench, as well as steel debris around the site.[85][86]

On 15 October the left wing German party Die Linke made a parliamentary inquiry to the government. The German government claimed that no on-site investigation had taken place yet, and refused to disclose information about the presence of NATO or Russian ships near Bornholm on the day of the presumed sabotage, citing state secret.[87]

In February 2023, The Times stated that none of the three separate investigations had publicly said who they believed was responsible.[65]

Possibility of repairs

On 27 September 2022, Nord Stream AG, the operator of Nord Stream, said it was impossible to estimate when the infrastructure would be repaired.[88] German authorities stated that unless they were rapidly repaired, the three damaged lines, both lines in Nord Stream 1 and line A in Nord Stream 2, were unlikely to ever become operational again due to corrosion caused by sea water.[1] The Washington Post reported that the incidents are likely to put a permanent end to both Nord Stream projects.[89]

According to engineers, possible methods for the repair of the pipeline would include full-scale replacement of pipe segments and clamping of damaged sections. If carried out, repairs would be expected to last several months.[90]

In February 2023, The Times reported that Russia had begun estimating repair costs, put at about $500 million.[65]

Aftermath

On 27 September 2022, European gas prices jumped 12 percent after news spread of the damaged pipelines,[91][92] despite the fact that Nord Stream 1 had not delivered gas since August and Nord Stream 2 had never gone into service.[93]

The Danish Navy and Swedish Coast Guard sent ships to monitor the discharge and keep other vessels away from danger by establishing an exclusion zone of 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi) around each leak.[88][94] Two of the ships are the Danish Absalon and the Swedish Amfitrite, [sv] which are specially designed to operate in contaminated environments such as gas clouds.[94][95] Vessels could lose buoyancy if they enter the gas plumes, and there might be a risk of leaked gas igniting over the water and in the air, but there were no risks associated with the leaks outside the exclusion zones.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, wrote on Twitter that "Any deliberate disruption of active European energy infrastructure is unacceptable & will lead to the strongest possible response."[96] After the leaks, Norwegian authorities increased the security around their gas and oil infrastructure.[97] As of 29 September 2022, eastward flow of gas from Germany to Poland through the Yamal–Europe pipeline is stable,[98][99] as is transmission through Ukraine as of 2 October 2022,[100] although there are concerns that Russia may introduce "sanctions against Ukraine's Naftogaz [...] that could prohibit Gazprom from paying Ukraine transit fees [... that] could end Russian gas flows to Europe via the country."[98][99][101][102]

On 5 October, Nord Stream 2 AG reported that Gazprom had begun pulling gas back out of the undamaged pipe for consumption in Saint Petersburg, reducing pipe pressure.[103] Infrastructure in the North Sea was being inspected for anomalies.[104]

Environmental impact

In the area, the leaks would only affect the environment where the gas plumes in the water column are located. A greater effect is likely to be the climate impact caused by the large volumes of escaping methane, a potent greenhouse gas.[32][105] The released volume is approximately 0.25% of the annual capacity of the pipelines, an amount nearly equal to the total release from all other sources of methane in a full year across Sweden.[106] A Danish official said these Nord Stream gas leaks could emit a CO2 equivalent of 14.6 million tonnes (32 billion pounds), similar to one third of Denmark's total annual greenhouse gas emissions.[107][108]

The methane emissions from the leaks are equal to a few days of the emissions from regular fossil fuel production.[109] However, the leaks set a record as the single largest discharge of methane, dwarfing all previously known leaks, such as the Aliso Canyon gas leak.[109][110]

Equipment measured no increase in atmospheric methane at Bornholm.[111] A weather station in Norway logged an unprecedented 400 parts per billion (ppb) increase from a base level of 1800 ppb.[112]

Reactions

On 11 January 2023, EU and NATO vowed to protect European critical infrastructure against "strategic vulnerabilities" and a new type of threat – the "weaponisation of energy" by Russia. Russia's foreign ministry has said that the push for increased cooperation between the bodies amounts to "complete subordination" of the EU to the military alliance.[113]

See also

References

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