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Nord Stream: three questions about suspicious leaks affecting gas pipelines

These are two pipelines that have been the subject of geopolitical standoffs in recent months.

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Nord Stream: three questions about suspicious leaks affecting gas pipelines

These are two pipelines that have been the subject of geopolitical standoffs in recent months. The Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia to Germany were both suddenly hit by unexplained leaks in the Baltic Sea, Danish and Swedish authorities announced on Tuesday, September 27, raising suspicions of sabotage. The two pipelines operated by a consortium dependent on the Russian giant Gazprom are not operational due to the consequences of the war in Ukraine. But both were still full of gas.

On Monday, the German authorities indicated that they had been informed of a "sharp drop in pressure on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline", as indicated by the Ministry of the Economy. The day after the announcement of this leak in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany was in turn affected by two very rare gas leaks in the Baltic Sea, the authorities indicated on Tuesday. authorities of the two Nordic countries.

These three leaks are located off the Danish island of Bornholm. The leaks on Nord Stream 1 take place outside territorial waters but one is in the exclusive economic zone of Denmark, the other in that of Sweden.

Built in parallel to the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was intended to double the capacity for importing Russian gas into Germany. But its impending commissioning has been suspended, in retaliation for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Gazprom gradually reduced volumes of gas delivered through Nord Stream 1 until the pipeline was completely shut down at the end of August, blaming Western sanctions for delaying needed repairs to the pipeline.

Copenhagen immediately placed its energy infrastructure on alert, while considering that it was "too early" to comment on the causes of these simultaneous incidents. The alert level was raised to orange, the second highest.

"Gas pipeline leaks are extremely rare and we therefore see a reason to increase the level of vigilance following the incidents we have witnessed in the last 24 hours," said the director of the Danish agency in a press release. energy, Kristoffer Böttzauw.

Concrete measures to increase the safety of factories and installations will therefore have to be put in place by companies in the sector, particularly with regard to access, surveillance and the proper maintenance of installations.

Navigation was prohibited within a radius of five nautical miles (about nine kilometers) around the three leaks, as well as their overflight within a radius of one kilometer. According to the authorities, the incidents have no consequences for the safety or health of residents of the neighboring Danish islands of Bornholm and Christiansø. The environmental impact should be local and limited, according to initial assessments.

This Tuesday, the Danish Prime Minister inaugurated with her Norwegian and Polish colleagues the Baltic Pipe, a gas pipeline linking Poland to Norway and passing through the territory and waters of the Scandinavian country.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday "extremely concerned" by these leaks. "We are extremely concerned about this news," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, calling the available information "very alarming." "Indeed, the pressure has dropped significantly" in the gas pipelines, he added. Asked about the possibility of an act of sabotage, he replied: "No option can be ruled out".

"It is obvious that there is some kind of breakdown (...), but it is impossible to exclude anything before the results are available", continued Dmitry Peskov, stressing that the functioning of Nord Stream 1 was a matter of "energy security of the entire (European) continent".

For its part, Denmark, through the voice of its Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, estimated this Tuesday before the Danish media that it is "difficult to imagine" that the three concomitant leaks on the two gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea are "accidental “, saying not to “exclude” sabotage.

German authorities did not immediately comment on the incident. But according to a source close to the German government, quoted by the German daily Taggesspiegel, "everything speaks against a coincidence". "We cannot imagine a scenario that is not a targeted attack," said this source.

The pipeline operator, the Nord Stream consortium, said it could not see or assess the damage, but acknowledged the exceptional nature of the situation. "An incident in which three pipes simultaneously experience difficulties on the same day is not ordinary," a spokesman told AFP. Military officials regularly warn of the risk of sabotaging essential civilian underwater installations, such as telecommunications cables, electrical or hydrocarbon connections.

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