NATO Attributes Nord Stream Leaks to "Deliberate, Reckless" Sabotage

leak swedish coast guard
The smaller of the two natural gas leak fields in Swedish waters (Swedish Coast Guard)

Published Sep 29, 2022 8:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, NATO leaders formally attributed the leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipeline systems to "deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage."

Without naming a suspect, they pledged "a united and determined response" to any allied infrastructure by a state or non-state actor. 

The scope of damage to the pipeline system appears to be larger than initially reported. On Thursday, the Swedish Coast Guard drew attention to a fourth leak located next to a previously-reported one in Sweden's EEZ. It was not immediately clear whether all four pipes in the Nord Stream network have now been confirmed to be ruptured. (Nord Stream 1 and 2 are each composed of two parallel pipes, four in total.)

According to Der Spiegel, German security sources believe that the damage was caused by explosive charges with the equivalent power of about 500 kilos of TNT. Sweden's National Seismic Network, which detected the explosions with earthquake-monitoring equipment, estimated the strength of the largest blast at about 100-200 kilos.

An industry source with knowledge of the Nord Stream system told Energy Intelligence that any repair plans would be challenging and lengthy, and the scope would depend on how much of the pipeline would have to be hauled up and replaced. Saltwater intrusion into the pipeline system would create additional challenges due to corrosion. 

A spokesperson for operator Nord Stream AG confirmed that "It is today impossible to answer how big is damage and if it can be repaired," according to SVT Nyheter.

Any full investigation into the damage will have to wait until all the gas in the lines has blown out, likely Sunday or Monday, the spokesperson said. The roiling methane leaks off Bornholm - marked with AIS beacons to ward off shipping - still continue as before, Sweden's Coast Guard said Thursday. 

In addition to geopolitical tensions, the damage may have an environmental effect: the sudden release of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of natural gas may be the largest single manmade methane release on record. It has raised alarms about climate impacts, since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but some climate scientists have expressed only modest concern. “It’s not trivial, but it’s a modest-sized U.S. city, something like that,” Prof. Drew Shindell of Duke University told the Washington Post.