On the 26th of September, a seismograph on the Danish island of Bornholm, in the Baltic sea, recorded two spikes in seismic activity. Around the same time, the gas pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 recorded a precipitous drop in pressure. The pipes were not operational at the time, although they still contained methane gas.
This led to methane gas leaking out of the pipe into the sea and further into the atmosphere, which is claimed to be the largest release of methane gas in recorded history. Of course, methane is a greenhouse gas, and such a massive release raises environmental concerns. The leaks have now stopped as of October 4th, but this would not lessen the environmental impact of the already released methane.
Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 are gas pipelines, maintained by Nord Stream AG, which were responsible for delivering the majority of Russian gas into Europe. They were constructed and operated by Gazprom, the Russian state energy company, and a variety of European energy companies. Both pipelines have two ‘lines’, meaning that there are a total of four ‘lines’. They run from the western coast of Russia, under the Baltic sea and into the town of Greifswald in the north-east of Germany.
Europe has been reliant on Russian gas deliveries for many years, and it is alleged that Russia has tried to force Europe to weaken its support of Ukraine by using its energy supplies as a bargaining tool. Nord Stream 2 never opened as it was cancelled by German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, in February two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has been greatly reducing its energy imports into Europe via the pipeline; in June Russia cut the amount of gas piped to Germany by 75% and in August closed Nord Stream 1 entirely, claiming maintenance difficulties.
The wider context behind this should be obvious; Russia’s continual invasion of Ukraine. Facing setbacks on the battlefield, it is possible that Russia could attempt to find new ways to weaken Europe’s resolve. It is unanimously believed that sabotage is the only reasonable explanation for the leaks. After all, it would be a rather implausible coincidence for three accidents to occur on the same day, especially since explosions were recorded beforehand.
The pipelines are elaborately protected with 12 inches of steel-reinforced concrete, meaning a simple accident would be highly unlikely. Even Russia has blamed sabotage for the attacks. Further evidence pointing to sabotage is the volume of both of the explosions recorded by seismologists in Sweden and Denmark, said to be the equivalent of 100 kilograms of TNT.
Western leaders have not gone as far to hold Russia responsible but they are reasonably suspicious. Drones of unknown origin have been sighted around oil rigs and pipelines in the North Sea for months since the beginning of the Ukrainian invasion, and this incident will have heightened the anxiety of European leaders further. Russia, meanwhile, has obviously blamed NATO. Putin was quoted as saying that the ”Anglo-Saxons” had resorted to sabotage to weaken Russia’s resolve, as well as removing some of the potential sway it could hold over Europe. Russia has demanded that the UN Security Council convenes to discuss the incident.
Until official investigations are concluded, speculation abounds over who did these attacks and how they could be carried out. The geopolitical ramifications however are clear. This will further inflame tensions between the West and Russia and mark a move away from reliance on Russian energy in Europe, even after the invasion of Ukraine ends. In turn, Russia will seek to sell more oil and gas to countries such as India and China, which it has been doing since the EU imposed sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Incidents like this could mark the birth of a new geopolitical landscape.