The Nord Stream gas pipelines are colossal pieces of infrastructure. Running more than 1,200 kilometers from Russia, across the Baltic Sea to Germany, the pipes can carry up to 110 billion cubic meters of gas, enough for 26 million homes. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline alone is constructed of 202,000 huge pieces of piping. Each section is 12 meters long and contains piping that uses around 4 centimeters of steel, which is covered with 11 centimeters of concrete. The pipes are not built to break.
So when the pressure in one of the Nord Stream pipes dropped on June 26, alarm bells started ringing. Danish authorities told ships to steer clear of the pipes as methane gas was bubbling into the sea. Hours later, two more leaks were detected, one in Nord Stream 2 and a second in Nord Stream 1. Now, authorities are suspecting foul play. “We are not talking about an accident,” Mette Frederiksen, the Danish prime minister said
Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, believes the leaks may be a result of “sabotage” and said any “deliberate disruption” of energy infrastructure will “lead to the strongest possible response.” NATO officials agree; the US has pledged its support to help Europe find out what happened. However, the incidents have raised fears about attacks on critical infrastructure and the security protections in place around systems that can provide the world’s fuel. The incident comes on top of Russia reducing its supply of gas to Europe, with large parts of the continent facing winter energy crises.
While officials have indicated the leaks may have been caused deliberately, very little evidence about the attacks has emerged so far. Military flights over the region show gas bubbling at the surface more than a kilometer wide, and Swedish seismic experts say they are convinced explosions took place after they recorded tremors equal to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake.
Fingers immediately pointed at Russia, which partly owns the pipes. Ukraine has said it is a “terrorist attack,” and German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the CIA warned German officials about possible attacks against Baltic pipelines several weeks ago. (Right-wing commentators in the US and one Polish MP accused the US of being involved after President Joe Biden said, in February, he would “put an end” to Nord Stream 2 if Russia invaded Ukraine.)
“It’s a very classic Russian hybrid warfare approach,” says Hans Tino Hansen, the CEO of Risk Intelligence, a Denmark-based security firm that deals with maritime issues. Hansen says if Russia did attack the Nord Stream pipelines it would show they have “complete deniability.” Because Russia partly owns the Nord Stream infrastructure, it makes people question why it would be behind any attacks against it. (The Kremlin claimed suggestions it is behind the leaks are “stupid.) “They are showing that they can attack seabed energy infrastructure, with the pipelines, which then sends the signal that they can attack and destroy any energy infrastructure in Europe,” Hansen says.