20220928 nordstream

The Nord Stream Pipeline Sabotage Is a Climate Catastrophe

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It will deprive Europe of fuel and release mass quantities of climate-altering methane.

This story was originally published by Slate‘s Future Tense partnership and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

On Monday, Danish officials broadcast a warning to ships navigating its nearby waters: There was a massive leak from Nord Stream 2, the Russian-owned pipeline built to transfer natural gas from the former Soviet Union to Germany through the Baltic Sea. That same day, the pipeline’s operators also announced a drop in pressure in its Nord Stream 1 line—which runs parallel with the second line—due to two points of leakage. Neither pipeline was operational at the time, but both had been filled to capacity, with 300 million total cubic meters of gas ready to go just in case. Now, all that fuel is rapidly draining. The photos from the Baltic Sea are stunning.

Danish Director of Energy Management Kristoffer Böttzauw soon announced that Nord Stream 2’s puncture was a “really big hole” unleashing a 1-kilometer-long stream of gas bubbles in the water. The damage occurred the same day a Norway-to-Poland gas pipeline meant to exclude Russia was being inaugurated near the Baltic Sea, sparking international speculation, including from the European Union, that Nord Stream was sabotaged. Swedish and German scientists told the Wall Street Journal that they were positive the pipes were hit by “blasts” of a “targeted” nature. Poland’s head of state is convinced this was a symbolic act of aggression by Russia; the Kremlin, for its part, has called such accusations “stupid”  and referred to the situation as a “concern.” Right-wingers from all over the world have in turn pointed to February remarks by U.S. President Joe Biden (“If Russia invades … there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2”) to suggest he’s behind this. His administration has said it “stand[s] ready to provide support” to Europe and that a disaster like this is “clearly in no one’s interest.”

The exact reasons for Nord Stream’s plight remain unknown. In the meantime, Europe is mobilizing additional security around its waters and energy sources, while climate officials urge action to halt the gas leakage, an effort Denmark estimates will take over a week. Gas prices in Europe—already high in part because of Russia limiting exports—shot up by 20 percent in response to the news, even though nations like Germany say the leaks do not affect their current gas supplies. (The future looks less certain.) To take stock of the significance of the pipelines, the nature of the harms, and the ramifications, I spoke with Samantha Gross, director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution and a frequent commentator on European energy issues. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nitish Pahwa: How would you explain the significance of Nord Stream 1 and 2 to someone unfamiliar with the pipelines?

Samantha Gross: Before the crisis, Russia supplied about 40 percent of Europe’s overall natural gas. Nord Stream 1 was finished in 2011, and its geopolitical impact was to make Ukraine a less important transit country: It lessened the number of Russian exports going through Ukraine as well as the amount of money Russia was paying Ukraine to transit the country and ship gas through it.

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