Sabotage on Nord Stream

September 29, 2022


Why powerful voices blame “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage" for damage to key pipelines that deliver natural gas to Europe.

Important Background:

  • Nord Stream consists of two parallel pipelines, Nord Stream 1 and 2, running from Russia to Germany.
  • Big Picture: Nord Stream is a Russian-operated and majority Russian-owned entity.
  • Russia has periodically cut natural gas delivery to Europe *for years* but most recently during the war with Ukraine, sparking fears of more cuts to come during colder winter months.
  • Nord Stream supplies roughly 35% of all the European Union’s natural gas.

What Happened:

  • Damage (from what’s believed to be explosions) occurred to both pipelines.
  • The pipelines contained natural gas — though both were not actively transporting gas.
  • Although Russia has periodically stopped or limited delivery of natural gas to Europe, the damage prevents this delivery through these pipelines completely (for now) — a reminder of the high stakes for countries such as Germany and Italy (prominent European economies) that use some Russian natural gas to heat homes, stoves and factories.

Environmental Impact:

  • Natural gas = fossil fuel, primarily methane.
  • Because of the damage, methane is being released into the Baltic Sea, bubbling to the surface, and releasing into the atmosphere. It may be “the largest-ever single release of methane gas into the atmosphere, but it may not be enough to have a major effect on climate change …” (The Washington Post).
  • How much? One researcher estimated the gas being released is the equivalent to that from 1 million cars. For context, the European Union had about 250 million cars as of 2020.
"The sabotage of the Nordstream pipelines is of deep concern … Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Twitter, linking to a short statement that does not mention Russia by name but affirms NATO’s commitment to deterrence and defense against state/non-state actors: “These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage.”

“It looks like a terror attack, probably conducted on a state level."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied reports of Russia’s involvement, pointing to NATO ships in the area and calling any accusation “absolutely ridiculous … and biased.” Russia said it will “push for an honest investigation.” Nord Stream hasn’t described the incident or the damage other than a “pressure drop” due to gas leaks on both pipelines, and says it is waiting for the proper permits to assess the situation and provide an estimate for repair.

Why This Matters:

1. This incident happened in international waters. NATO and Russia are both making accusations that a group or a country attacked critical infrastructure; this heightens the potential for conflict to escalate.

2. Repairs are TBD, raising more questions about future energy supply for Europe — which also impacts the broader energy markets.

Nord Stream 1: How Russia is cutting gas supplies to Europe (BBC)

NATO believes Baltic Sea gas leaks were sabotage (The Associated Press)

Nord Stream spill could be biggest methane leak ever but not catastrophic (The Washington Post)

Nord Stream (on repairs): Pressure drop on both strings of the gas pipeline (update II)

NATO Formally Blames Sabotage for Nord Stream Pipeline Damage (The Wall Street Journal)

by Jenna Lee,