Following sudden pressure drops in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines on Monday, there is concern in the German government that this could be a targeted attack on European gas infrastructure and gas markets.
Three out of four of the pipes belonging to the Baltic Sea pipeline network are damaged, an inside source told DER SPIEGEL. Officials do not believe it is a coincidence, and that it could be a plot to inject uncertainty into European gas markets.
According to information obtained by DER SPIEGEL, the security plans for other pipelines and gas supply facilities are now the focus of urgent review.
Although the Nord Stream 2 pipeline never went into operation after its completion and was only filled with natural gas once, gas did continue to flow from Russia to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline until the beginning of September. The operator of Nord Stream 1 also reported a drop in pressure on Monday after the leak at Nord Stream 2 became known.
According to a spokesman, both pipelines are affected. Capacity sank to zero in an unplanned manner, according to market information that operators must report.
Security Experts Are not Ruling Out Sabotage
The Danish navy has stated that there are indications of sabotage. If it was an attack, officials believe that it could only have been conducted by a state actor, given the technical effort required.
Poland suspects Russian provocations behind the mysterious pipeline leaks. "Unfortunately, our eastern neighbor is pursuing an aggressive policy all the time," said Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz.
Russia also isn't ruling out the possibility it was sabotage. "No option can be ruled out right now," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked if sabotage could be the reason for the pressure drop.
As a consequence of the leaks, the Danish maritime authority has set up restricted zones for shipping traffic near the Danish island of Bornholm. Danish authorities have discovered a total of three leaks along the gas pipelines. There are reportedly two leaks at Nord Stream 1 northeast of the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm and one at Nord Stream 2 southeast of the island, the Danish Energy Authority said. In the case of Nord Stream 1, one leak is in Danish waters and the other is in Swedish waters. The Nord Stream 2 leak is located in Danish waters.
Investigations are currently underway, said a spokesman for Nord Stream AG, which is responsible for Nord Stream 1. No information is available yet regarding the extent of the damage. In the area around Bornholm, the spokesperson said, the pipelines are located about 70 meters below the water surface. According to Nord Stream 2 spokesman Ulrich Lissek, the pipelines are laid in such a way that simultaneous damage to several pipelines, for example by a single ship accident, is highly unlikely. Asked if he was aware of similar incidents involving offshore pipelines, he said: "I’ve never heard of any.”
An expert on underwater robots also referred to the extremely high safety standards and the robust construction of the pipelines. From his point of view, deliberate manipulation is the only plausible explanation. The expert says the authorities will now take a closer look using diving robots.
The Gas Supply Is Safe, But the Ecosystem Is Not
The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten is reporting that Danish F-16 fighter jets discovered the leak from Nord Stream 2 on Monday. According to the report, they were dispatched from Bornholm to photograph the area. They discovered that bubbles were rising from the water at a point southeast of the island.
According to the Danish Energy Agency, ships risk losing propulsion if they enter the area. There is also a risk they could ignite the gas. Outside the zone, however, the agency said there is no danger, not even for the inhabitants of Bornholm and the small neighboring island Christiansø.
German and Danish authorities pointed out that the incidents had no effect on gas supplies, as the pipelines had not been used for gas imports recently.
Gas had still been flowing to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline until a few weeks ago, although at reduced volume. But approval for imports through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline were put on hold shortly after the Russian attack on Ukraine. Since then, use of the pipeline has been prohibited in response to the war.
The German environmental organization BUND estimates that the potential short-term environmental impact of the leaks from the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines will be limited to the immediate area. "However, there is a danger of suffocation for animals in the area," said Nadja Ziebarth, head of BUND's marine conservation office. "This applies especially to those animals that can't flee quickly."
Together with the organization Environmental Action Germany, BUND also sees a climate hazard from the leaking methane, which is 25 times more harmful than CO2. Pure methane that dissolves in the ocean is said to be non-toxic. However, the composition of the gas in the Nord Stream pipes is not known.
On Europe's gas exchanges, prices rose noticeably again on Tuesday after weeks of downward movement. At around 2 p.m., the price of a megawatt hour of natural gas for delivery in October hit 192.50 euros on the Dutch reference market TTF, around 10 percent higher than the day before.