Spectacular leaks on Nord Stream gas pipelines, Copenhagen evokes “deliberate acts”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark | Out of service due to the war in Ukraine, the Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea were both affected by spectacular leaks, preceded by underwater explosions “due to deliberate acts”, according to Denmark.
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The three large leaks identified since Monday off the Danish island of Bornholm, between southern Sweden and Poland, are visible on the surface with bubbling ranging from 200 meters to one kilometer in diameter, announced Tuesday the Danish army, impressive images in support.
The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was the first victim of a sharp drop in pressure on Monday, followed a few hours later by Nord Stream 1, which follows the route under the Baltic.
“The clear opinion of the authorities is that these are deliberate acts. We are not talking about an accident, ”said Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen during a crisis press conference on Tuesday evening.
According to Copenhagen, the leaks should last “at least a week”, until the large quantities of gas contained in the two structures have reached the atmosphere.
Denmark and Sweden had confirmed Tuesday morning to be faced with three leaks, spaced between them, on the two gas pipelines, located outside their territorial waters, but in their exclusive economic zones.
The Swedish seismic institute told AFP that it had recorded two underwater explosions, « most likely due to detonations », before the incident, as did its Norwegian and Danish equivalents.
Objects of geopolitical arm wrestling in recent months, the two pipelines operated by a consortium dependent on the Russian giant Gazprom are not operational because of the consequences of the war in Ukraine. But both were still filled with gas.
The Kremlin, towards which many eyes have turned, said it was « extremely concerned », believing that « no » hypothesis should be excluded, including that of sabotage.
In Kyiv, the adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, Mykhaïlo Podoliak denounced « a planned terrorist attack » by Moscow, without providing evidence.
The Polish Prime Minister also suggested Russian involvement, without directly targeting Moscow. “We clearly see that this is an act of sabotage, which probably marks the next stage in the escalation of the situation in Ukraine,” said Mateusz Morawiecki, who just inaugurated a gas pipeline linking Norway to Poland on Tuesday.
« There is no information yet telling us anything about who is responsible, » said Frederiksen. On the American side, Washington refused to « confirm » an act of sabotage.
The pipeline operator, the Nord Stream consortium, was unable to clearly assess the damage on Tuesday, 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 sabotage of essential civilian underwater installations, such as telecommunications cables, electrical connections or hydrocarbon distribution networks.
Denmark dispatched two military ships to the scene accompanied by helicopters, and the Swedish government called an emergency meeting on Tuesday evening.
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Copenhagen immediately placed its energy infrastructure on orange alert, the second highest level of vigilance.
« Extremely rare »
“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,” explained the director of the Danish Agency for the energy, Kristoffer Böttzauw.
Nord Stream 2, whose construction in parallel with Nord Stream 1 was completed in 2021, was intended to double the import capacity of Russian gas in Germany.
Its commissioning was suspended, in retaliation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
As for Nord Stream 1, Gazprom gradually reduced gas volumes delivered until the pipeline was completely shut down at the end of August, blaming Western sanctions for delaying necessary repairs to the pipeline.
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 Danish authorities, the incidents have no consequences for the safety or health of local residents.
The direct environmental impact should also be limited, although unburned natural gas has a powerful greenhouse effect.