Denmark says damage to Nord Stream pipeline in Baltic Sea was 'deliberate'

A series of unusual leaks on two natural gas pipelines running from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany triggered concerns about possible sabotage Tuesday, with Swedish officials indicating underwater seismic activity may have occurred as a result.

'This is not an earthquake,' says seismologist after dual blasts

A large disturbance is seen in the waters off the Danish island of Bornholm on Tuesday, after mysterious explosions caused leaks in two natural gas pipelines running from Russia under the Baltic Sea. (Danish Defence Command/The Associated Press)

Explosions rattled the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered on two natural gas pipelines running underwater from Russia to Germany, seismologists said Tuesday.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her government regarded the leaks as the results of "deliberate actions" by unknown perpetrators, while other European leaders and experts pointed to possible sabotage amid an energy standoff with Russia provoked by its war in Ukraine.

The first explosion was recorded early Monday southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm, said Bjorn Lund, director of the Swedish National Seismic Network. A second, stronger blast northeast of the island that night was equivalent to a magnitude-2.3 earthquake. Seismic stations in Denmark, Norway and Finland also registered the explosions.

"There's no doubt, this is not an earthquake," Lund said.

Asked whether that constituted an attack on Denmark, Frederiksen replied that the leaks happened in international waters and "the answer is thus no."

Asked who could be responsible for the leaks, Frederiksen said "there is no information indicating who could be behind it."

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tour a compressor station of the new Baltic Pipe on Tuesday near Goleniow, Poland. Frederiksen said the Nord Stream leaks were suspicious. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The pipelines are not currently bringing gas to Europe as an energy standoff over Russia's war in Ukraine halted flows or never allowed them to begin.

However, gas still fills the lines, leaving open the possibility of localized environmental damage.

Polish PM slams Russia

Frederiksen was with Poland's President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, opening a valve of a yellow pipe belonging to the Baltic Pipe, a new system set to bring Norway's gas across Denmark and the Baltic Sea to Poland beginning next week.

Morawiecki characterized the events as "an act of sabotage."

"The era of Russian domination in the gas sphere is coming to an end," Morawiecki declared, calling it "an era that was marked by blackmail, threats and extortion." 

WATCH l Divers en route to leak:

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The evidence seems to point in one direction, according to Johannes Peters, the head of the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University. 

Considering "the complexity of the attacks and how difficult it is to carry out such an act of sabotage, then it's most likely that a state actor is involved," said Peters.

He added that there is only one country where "the possibility, the capabilities and the motivation come together. And that is obviously Russia."

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Featured VideoJohannes Peters, head of the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University, says there's only one Baltic country where 'the possibility, the capabilities and the motivation' for the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines come together — and that's Russia.

The leaks, off the coast of Denmark and Sweden, raised the stakes on whether energy infrastructure in European waters was being targeted and led to a small bump in natural gas prices.

Each line of the pipeline consists of about 100,000 24-tonne concrete-weight coated steel pipes laid on the seabed of the Baltic Sea. The pipelines have a constant internal diameter of 1.153 metres, according to Nord Stream.

Sections of the pipelines lie at a depth of around 80-110 metres. The escaped natural gas is almost entirely methane, which partially dissolves in water and is not toxic. The deeper the gas is released in the sea, the higher the proportion that dissolves in the water.

Methane is the second biggest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. David Hastings, a retired chemical oceanographer in Gainesville, Fla., says much of the gas would rise through the ocean and enter the atmosphere. "There is no question that the largest environmental impact of this is to the climate, because methane is a really potent greenhouse gas," he said.

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According to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year, methane is 82.5 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame, because it so effectively absorbs the heat of the sun.

Nord Stream AG said it was impossible to estimate when the gas network system's working capability would be restored.

"The destruction that occurred on the same day simultaneously on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines of the Nord Stream system is unprecedented," the Nord Stream consortium said.

"This is an unprecedented situation that requires an urgent investigation. We are extremely worried by this news," he said in a conference call with reporters.

Asked if the trouble might have been caused by sabotage, Peskov said that "no version could be excluded."

The Danish Maritime Authority issued a navigation warning and established a prohibited area to ensure that ships do not go near the leaks. Ships may lose buoyancy if they sail into the area, and there may also be a risk of ignition above the water and in the air, the Danish authorities said. 

Because the pipelines aren't actively sending gas to Europe, the leaks did not pose any threat to energy supplies.

With the continent needing gas to heat homes, generate electricity and run factories, the energy crisis provoked by Russia's war in Ukraine threatens rationing, business shutdowns and possible recession this winter.

Several European countries have decided to cap prices for businesses and consumers, while sourcing alternate sources of energy.

Ottawa was dragged into the fray this summer when Nord Stream turbines required maintenance at Siemens Canada in Montreal. Ukraine criticized the Liberal government for acquiescing to German requests for the company to be exempt from sanctions that have been applied across industries for doing business with Russia since the Ukraine invasion in February.

Unused pipes for the Nord Stream 2 Baltic gas pipeline are stored on the site of the Port of Mukran in Lubmin, Germany. (Stefan Sauer/dpa/The Associated Press)

With files from Reuters

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