The damaged Nord Stream pipelines are leaking huge amounts of natural gas into the Baltic Sea and atmosphere.
The Nord Stream 1 and 2 are large pipelines used to transport natural gas from Russian suppliers to the European market via Germany. They have been the topic of much discussion in recent months, as access to the pipelines has been used as a political tool by the Russian government in response to European Union nations’ support of the Ukraine. Though the cause and consequences of the leaks are unknown, speculation about both pose concerning questions on the impact of geopolitics on the environment.
The pipelines were not operating when the leaks began, but they still contained hundreds of millions of cubic meters of natural gas, which is primarily methane that is now spilling into the Baltic Sea and rising into the atmosphere.
There is no official determination on why the leaks occurred, but NATO said they were acts of sabotage. Officials of both the EU and Russia have pointed fingers at each other, and Russia has also blamed the U.S. While expected, the finger pointing and common consensus of an act of sabotage as the reason for the leaks illuminates a troubling reality of the use of crucial energy systems as weapons of war.
Effects of the leaks are not expected to have any significant impact on the EU’s already compromised energy supplies, according to the New York Times. Environmental effects, on the other hand, could set greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts back for some time.
The volume of natural gas leaked by the pipelines will be unknown until further investigations are conducted. However, officials from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline indicated that it was holding 300 cubic meters of natural gas at the time of the leak. The Associated Press reported the leaks could discharge as much as five times the quantity of the potent greenhouse as was released in the U.S.’s largest known methane leak. In a statement to Reuters, a senior official of GHGSat, a company that monitors greenhouse gas emissions through satellite, said that, at its peak, the pipelines could have spewed over 500 metric tons of methane per hour.
The environmental effects of the large leak could take years to be fully realized, but the fact that a large energy source could be used as a political weapon also raises troubling national security and energy security concerns for the U.S. and EU nations that must be resolved.