Nord Stream: Russia’s gas pipelines to Europe suffer mysterious leaks

Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, key gas pipelines between Russia and Europe, have sprung large leaks within hours of each other, sparking fears of deliberate sabotage


27 September 2022

The gas leak at Nord Stream 2

The gas leak at Nord Stream 2 seen from a Danish fighter jet

Danish Defence Command

Two key gas pipelines bringing Russian gas to Europe have developed leaks within hours of each other, prompting speculation about sabotage. The Nord Stream pipes, which run under the Baltic Sea, have at times been a focal point of diplomatic tensions around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. European Union leaders have previously accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of leveraging energy supplies in response to strong sanctions from Europe and the US.

The Danish Energy Agency said in a statement that two leaks have been detected on Nord Stream 1 – one in Danish territory and one in Swedish – and one was also found on Nord Stream 2. The agency raised its alert level to orange, the second highest.

Kristoffer Böttzauw, the agency’s director, said in a statement: “Breakage of gas pipelines is extremely rare, and therefore we see reason to raise the preparedness level as a result of the incidents we have seen over the past 24 hours. We want to ensure thorough monitoring of Denmark’s critical infrastructure in order to strengthen security of supply going forward.”

Reports suggest that the leaks are large holes, rather than small cracks.

A European security source told Reuters there were indications that the leaks were caused by “deliberate damage”. Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said, “It’s hard to imagine that these are coincidences. We can’t rule out sabotage.”

Denmark has imposed a prohibition area around the leaks, banning all ships and aircraft from getting within 5 nautical miles. It says there is a risk that ships could lose buoyancy due to escaping gas or of ignition.

Anthony King at the University of Warwick, UK, says the development is odd, and that sabotage and accident were both possibilities.

“The Russians have the capability to carry out something like this – and they regularly threaten the internet fibres in the Atlantic to show that they could cut them if necessary. So it could be the Russians,” he says. “But I don’t see what they’d gain – they want to sell gas. It may indeed be an accident.”

A spokesperson for the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences told New Scientist that it detected two large and distinctive spikes in seismic activity under the Baltic Sea on Monday, one at 00:03 UTC and one at 17:03 UTC. This was followed by “much stronger” than usual seismic noise than before the spikes. “We have no information on the cause of the spikes and the noise,” they say.

Each of the two affected pipelines actually comprises two pipelines, made up of approximately 100,000 sections, each 12 metres long. None of the pipelines was in operation at the time the leaks were discovered, but they all still contained pressurised gas. Environmental impact documents relating to the network reportedly point to the pipes being 26.8 millimetres thick and covered in anti-corrosion material and steel-reinforced concrete.

The pipelines aren’t the first pieces of energy infrastructure to be affected since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Fighting around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant – Europe’s largest nuclear plant – and Chernobyl have caused experts to warn of the prospect of an accidental release of radioactive material in recent months.

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