Russian sabotage to gas supplies to Europe is feared after three offshore lines of the Nord Stream pipeline system suffered “unprecedented” damage in a single day.
The damage has caused gas leaks on the bed of the Baltic sea which pose a “danger to ships” it was warned and investigations in Denmark, Sweden and Germany are underway.
Both Nord Stream pipelines have been flashpoints in the escalating energy war between Europe and Moscow, which has sent gas prices soaring, and led to accusations from European leaders that Vladimir Putin is weaponising energy supplies.
Russia has withheld gas supplies to Europe as it seeks to hit back for Western sanctions imposed for the illegal invasion of Ukraine. German newspapers reported sources saying the leaks were as a result of a “targeted attack”.
“The destruction that occurred on the same day simultaneously on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines of the Nord Stream system is unprecedented,” Nord Stream AG, the operator of the network, said on Tuesday.
“It is not yet possible to estimate the timing of the restoration of the gas transport infrastructure,” the company added in a sign that Europe now faces a winter without Russian gas.
Germany’s respected Die Welt newspaper said the timing of the leaks suggested sabotage. Die Welt said the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was meant to double Russian gas supplies to Germany, had been “partially destroyed”.
The Tagesspiegel newspaper quoted an insider involved in German federal investigations into the leak, who said such an act of sabotage could only be carried out by special forces and with the help of a submarine.
“Everything speaks against a coincidence […] our imagination no longer produces a scenario that is not a targeted attack,” the source said.
Denmark restricted shipping in a five nautical mile radius to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline after Sweden’s Maritime Authority issued a warning about two leaks on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and also banned boats near the leaks, citing the risk of explosive gas.
Air traffic below 1,000 metres has also been banned near the restricted zone, and methane bubbles have been detected in the sea near the Danish island of Bornholm.
In June, the Danish military warned a Russian warship twice violated its territorial waters north of Bornholm, which is near both pipelines.
“Leaks of gas pipelines happen extremely rarely” Kristoffer Bottzauw, head of the Danish Energy Agency, said.
Russia’s state owned energy giant Gazprom has so far refused to comment.
Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine brutally exposed the extent of EU countries’ dependence on Russian supplies of natural gas.
European gas prices rose by as much as 12 per cent on Tuesday after dropping for the last four days.
Nord Stream 1, which consists of two parallel lines with nameplate capacity of 27.5 billion cubic metres per year each, started supplying gas directly from Russia to Germany in 2011.
Flows from the pipeline were halted in August for maintenance and have not restarted, which Moscow blames on faulty equipment and Western sanctions. The pipeline was only working at 20 per cent of its capacity from July as relations worsened with the West.
The highly controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany was built in September 2021 but has never been operational so no current supplies to Europe are affected by the leaks.
Germany refused to approve the project, which was long criticised for worsening Berlin’s dependence on Russian gas, just before Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine.
Neither pipeline was pumping gas to Europe at the time leaks were found but both still contain gas under pressure. In Nord Stream 2’s case this was so it would be ready to begin supplying Europe before the refusal to certify the project.
EU countries including Germany have been scrambling to secure alternative gas supplies and have been building up reserves in anticipation of the winter.
The Baltic Pipe, a new subsea pipeline delivering Norwegian gas to Poland with an annual capacity of 10 billion cubic metres per day, is due to be inaugurated later on Tuesday.
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