Nordstream Blast: Sabotage at Sea?


Russia is the largest natural gas reserve on the world stage, but it only became a significant producer and exporter of natural gas in the 1970s. Presently, they established the Nordstream pipeline, which is responsible for the transport of a third of EU’s gas imports from Russia. Today, this pipeline is in the international limelight, destroyed by what appears to be an act of sabotage.  

The first Nordstream pipeline borders Russia and Germany directly under the Baltic Sea. It consists of two parallel channels running from Western Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, which became operational in 2011. 

There is a highly polarized debate on the implications of Nordstream. The pipeline is supported by the German and Austrian governments; whereas it’s opponents include Poland, the Baltic States, the United States, and Ukraine. Although defended by influential powers, who advocate for its commercial benefits, there lies an opposing argument. Others claim that it is a Kremlin-instigated project with minimal economic advantages, and with the ultimate aim of weakening and dividing the EU. They also believe it is environmentally harmful and incompatible with EU energy policies.

Earlier this month, a series of blasts on the Nordstream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany, were at the center of global curiosity. The incident caused the most significant methane release in history. A gust of detonations on two underwater pipelines connecting Russia to Germany sent gas spewing to the surface of the Baltic Sea. The explosions triggered four gas leaks at four locations — two in Denmark and Sweden’s exclusive economic zones. They measured at 2.3 and 2.1 on the Richter scale, respectively. Swedish and Danish authorities suggested that the blasts likely corresponded to an explosive load of “several hundred kilos.” Moreover, Denmark and surrounding countries have to consider the increased methane emissions to their climate balance sheet. 

It is suspected that the incident was an attack, since it occurred during the current bitter energy standoff between the EU and Russia. This event has been regarded as a “reckless release” of greenhouse gas emissions by various climate experts. That, if deliberate, “amounts to an environmental crime”. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) stated that, “the damage indicates that this results from deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”. They joined other Western state officials in suggesting sabotage as the initiator of gas leaks along the pipelines.

Gas deliveries along the Baltic Sea pipes have been halted following the explosions. Meanwhile, the Kremlin accused Western powers of unjustly blaming Russia for the damage. Still, Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that damaging the pipeline was “not in their interest”. The EU has previously accused them of weaponizing their gas supplies against the West, as a response to the EU’s support of Ukraine.

Blueye Robotics launched further investigations into the explosions, using a submersible drone to obtain footage of the damaged pipelines. They reported the sight of twisted and bent metal along the pipe 80 meters below the sea’s surface. Additionally, they noted pipeline segments as missing or embedded within the sea bed. One drone operator remarked, “only an extreme force can bend metal that thick in the way that we saw.” 

Additionally, Danish authorities’ findings further strengthened those of the Swedish, deducing that extensive damage was indeed done to the pipeline segments in their economic zone. However, Sweden has rejected joint investigations in collaboration with German and Danish authorities, as they fear the distribution of sensitive information pertaining to their national security. Russia previously insisted to be involved in any investigations, maintaining  that the damage occurred in international waters; Denmark and Sweden refused.

Without a doubt, the Nordstream explosions bear several repercussions on the environment. Scientists have described the event as “disturbing, and an environmental crime, if deliberate”. Assuming there is still an active leak of gasses, the surrounding environment is highly affected. Air containing methane is flammable and reduces the quantity of available oxygen. Since the leaks, shipping has also been restricted from around a 5-mile radius, as the methane in the water affects the buoyancy of vessels. Finally, marine organisms surrounding the escaping may get entangled and killed, but long-term effects on the local environment are not being anticipated.

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