Mystery Leaks Hit Nord Stream Gas Pipelines in Europe, Raising Suspicions of Sabotage

Mystery Leaks Hit Nord Stream Gas Pipelines in Europe, Raising Suspicions of Sabotage
A large disturbance in the sea can be observed off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm on Sept. 27, 2022, following a series of unusual leaks on two natural gas pipelines running from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany. (Danish Defence Command)
Bryan Jung

European officials are investigating ruptures to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, which run through the bed of the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, as apparent sabotage is feared.

The two offshore lines of the natural gas pipeline network were reported to have sustained “unprecedented” damage within 24 hours, according to Nord Stream AG, which operates the system.

Pressure in the undersea Nord Stream 2 pipeline immediately dropped on the morning of Sept. 26, as gas bubbles started to churn on the surface, off the southern tip of the Danish island of Bornholm.

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported that Danish F-16 fighter jets discovered the leaks while on patrol.

However, within hours of the discovery of the first week, a sudden collapse in pressure at the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline was reported with two leaks being discovered northeast of Bornholm.

Although neither pipeline was in operation, they still contained gas.

Seismologists detected three separate explosions on the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered on the two pipelines.
Swedish state media reported that Danish and Swedish monitoring stations recorded two substantial undersea explosions at the sites of the gas leaks, one at 2:03 a.m., the other at 7:04 p.m., on Sept. 26.
The German geological research center GFZ also witnessed the explosions.

The first explosion was recorded southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm, said Bjorn Lund, director of the Swedish National Seismic Network, in an interview with state broadcaster SVT.

The second, more powerful blast detected northeast of the island was the equivalent to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake.

Seismic stations in Norway and Finland also recorded the explosions.

“There’s no doubt this is not an earthquake,” Lund told The Associated Press.

The End of Nord Stream Gas Supplies

Russia had slashed gas deliveries to Europe after the West imposed sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, making the two pipelines flashpoints in an escalating energy conflict.

The loss of Russian gas has roiled Western economies, causing gas prices to skyrocket and shutting down major industries, as the European Union searches for alternative energy supplies.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline was the main source of Russian gas to Europe until late August, when Gazprom shut off the gas.

The other pipeline, Nord Stream 2, never came into operation due to the Ukraine crisis, when Germany pulled out of the energy project.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz refused to certify Nord Stream 2 in retaliation for the invasion.

Gas deliveries from Russia to Germany and central Europe are now only possible via the Yamal pipeline running through Poland or through the Ukrainian pipeline network.

The Baltic Pipe, a new undersea pipeline that will deliver Norwegian gas to Poland with an annual capacity of 10 billion cubic meters per day, was inaugurated during a symbolic “valve opening” on Sept. 27.

Accusations of Sabotage

Leaders and officials from Berlin to Moscow are beginning to suspect infrastructural sabotage, while the EU and Russia continue their energy standoff over the invasion of Ukraine.

At the ceremony to open the new Baltic Pipe, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said it was possible the leaks at the Nord Stream pipelines were caused by sabotage.

“It is hard to imagine that it is accidental. We cannot rule out sabotage, but it is too early to conclude,” Frederiksen told Danish news agency Politiken.

“We are talking about three leaks with some distance between them, and that’s why it is hard to imagine that it is a coincidence,” she said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also suspected subversion.

“Today we faced an act of sabotage, we don’t know all the details of what happened, but we see clearly that it’s an act of sabotage, related to the next step of escalation of the situation in Ukraine,” Morawiecki said at the pipeline ceremony.

The gas lines in the area near Bornholm sit at a depth of about 70 meters (230 feet) below the water surface, a Nord Stream AG spokesperson told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

It is still unclear who might be behind these acts, but a few state actors are suspected.

Russian officials said that sabotage was a possibility and that the incident undermined the continent’s energy security.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the incidents were “very concerning news. Indeed, we are talking about some damage of an unclear nature to the pipeline in Denmark’s economic zone.”

“No option can be ruled out right now,” Peskov said regarding the suspicions of who was responsible.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that American officials have yet to confirm if the explosions were deliberate.

The Danish military released a statement regarding the gas leaks, together with some images of the damage, which showed bubbling methane at the surface.
The gas leak at Nord Stream 1 caused a surface disturbance wider than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles).

The Swedish Maritime Authority (SMA) issued a warning about the leaks after Denmark restricted shipping in the area, as ships could lose buoyancy if they sailed past it.

“We are keeping extra watch to make sure no ship comes too close to the site,” an SMA spokesperson told Reuters.

The massive leaks at the Nord Stream 2 pipeline could take perhaps a week to contain, according to the head of Denmark’s Energy Agency, Kristoffer Bottzauw.

“The sea surface is full of methane, which means there is an increased risk of explosions in the area,” said Bottzauw.

Security Increased Over Energy Supplies

Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority told oil companies to be observant of any unidentified drones seen near Norwegian offshore energy platforms, due to fears of potential attacks.

Danish authorities also raised security precautions over Denmark’s power and gas sector after the leaks.

This is due to an earlier failed attack on Nord Stream 2 via an underwater drone armed with explosives, which was discovered near the pipeline construction site off of Gotland in 2015.

Russian security services announced last week that it thwarted an attack on infrastructure delivering energy to Turkey and Europe, accusing Ukraine of attempting to damage the network.

The loss of gas from the Nord Stream network will likely dampen any remaining expectations that Europe could receive gas via the pipeline before winter.

Several German politicians had suggested negotiations with the Kremlin regarding reopening the pipelines due to fears of massive unrest and an economic collapse this winter. European gas prices rose on news of the explosions, with the European Dutch benchmark climbing almost 10 percent on Sept. 27.

Gas prices in Europe are over 200 percent higher from the same time in 2021.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.