Mysterious leaks hit Russian undersea gas pipelines, raising European suspicion

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  • Neither Nord Stream pipeline was pumping gas at the time
  • Both pipes still contain pressurized gas
  • Operator says damage to Nord Stream 1 ‘unprecedented’
  • Crisis over Russian gas has pushed prices up
  • Europe races to find alternative supplies

STOCKHOLM/COPENHAGEN, Sept. 27 (Reuters) – European countries rushed Tuesday to investigate unexplained leaks in two Russian gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, infrastructure at the heart of an energy crisis since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Experts, as well as Russia, which built the network, said the possibility of sabotage could not be ruled out.

The Swedish Maritime Authority warned of two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline shortly after a leak in the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline was discovered, forcing Denmark to restrict shipping within a five-nautical-mile radius.

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Both pipelines have been flashpoints in an escalating energy war between European capitals and Moscow that has ravaged major Western economies, soared gas prices and fueled the hunt for alternative energy supplies.

“There are indications that the damage was intentional,” said a European security source, adding that it was too early to draw any conclusions. “You have to ask yourself: who would benefit?”

Russia also said the leak in the Russian network was worrying and that sabotage was one possible cause. “No option can be ruled out at the moment,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Neither pipeline was pumping gas to Europe at the time the leaks were found during the Ukraine war dispute, but the incidents will negate any remaining expectation that Europe could receive gas via Nord Stream 1 before the winter.

“The destruction that happened simultaneously on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines of the Nord Stream system on the same day is unprecedented,” said network operator Nord Stream AG. “It is not yet possible to estimate the timing of the recovery of the gas transport infrastructure.”

Although neither was in operation, both pipelines still contained pressurized gas.

Danish Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen said in a written response Monday that gas was discovered in Nord Stream 2 between Russia and Denmark.

Gazprom (GAZP.MM), the Kremlin-controlled company with a monopoly on Russian pipeline gas exports, declined to comment.

Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1 before completely suspending gas supplies in August, accusing Western sanctions of causing technical problems. According to European politicians, this was a pretext to stop the gas supply.

The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline had yet to be deployed commercially. The plan to supply gas was scrapped by Germany days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February.

FAULT OR SABOTAGE?

Jakub Godzimirski, a research professor at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs who specializes in Russian energy policy, said the leaks could be technical glitches but said sabotage was a possibility.

The leaks happened just before the ceremonial launch on Tuesday of the Baltic pipe carrying gas from Norway to Poland, a key part of Warsaw’s efforts to diversify Russian supplies.

The Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) had urged oil companies on Monday to be vigilant for unidentified drones seen near Norwegian offshore oil and gas platforms, and warned of possible attacks. read more

A spokesman for the Swedish Maritime Administration (SMA) said there were two leaks on Nord Stream 1, one in the Swedish economic zone and another in the Danish zone, adding that both leaks are located in an area northeast of the Danish island. Bornholm.

“We are monitoring extra to ensure that no vessel gets too close to the site,” said a second SMA spokesperson.

Ships could lose buoyancy as they enter the area, and there could be a risk of leaked gas igniting over the water and in the air, the Danish energy agency said, adding that there were no safety risks associated with the leak outside the exclusion zone. .

The leak would only affect the environment locally, meaning only the area where the gas plume is in the water column would be affected, it said, adding that escaping greenhouse gas methane would have a detrimental impact on the climate.

The Danish authorities have requested that Denmark’s level of preparedness for the electricity and gas sectors be increased following the leaks, a step that would require stricter safety procedures for electricity installations and facilities.

“Gas pipeline breaches are extremely rare… We want to ensure thorough monitoring of Denmark’s critical infrastructure to strengthen security of supply in the future,” said the head of the Danish energy agency Kristoffer Bottzauw.

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Reporting by Reuters agencies; Written by Matthias Williams; Editing by Edmund Blair

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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