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Swedish Probe Finds More Evidence of Nord Stream Pipeline Sabotage

An investigation determined that explosions were set off near the two, adjacent pipelines.

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Photo of pipeline leak in ocean
The Swedish Coast Guard captured this photo of gas bubbling up to the surface in the Baltic Sea, at the site of one of the pipeline leaks.
Photo: Swedish Coast Guard (AP)

Nord Stream Pipelines 1 and 2 were likely sabotaged, according to the results of a preliminary Swedish investigation, which found evidence of the use of explosive devices.

The pipelines cross the Baltic sea, delivering natural gas from Russia to Germany. Four suspicious leaks appeared in the pipelines at the end of September, and now Sweden’s findings bolster the widely held view that the pipelines were intentionally damaged.

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“We can confirm that there have been detonations at Nord Stream 1 and 2 in the Swedish economic zone, which have caused extensive damage to the gas pipelines. The crime scene investigation has strengthened the suspicions of serious sabotage,” said public prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist, in a statement published Thursday.

Map of Nord Stream pipelines
The red stars along the pipeline path indicate the locations of the four detected rupture points.
Graphic: European Space Agency
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Two of the leaks are in a Swedish exclusive economic zone of international waters, the other two are in an equivalent area for Denmark. Denmark and Germany are also conducting their own investigations, in conjunction with Sweden.

After the first three leaks were detected on September 27, European officials quickly blamed Russia deeming the ruptures the result of intentional foul play. The fourth leak was reported two days later. Russia has denied responsibility for the pipeline ruptures and instead claimed the West was at fault, calling the leaks the result of a “terror attack” meant to “destroy the European energy infrastructure,” according to a report from PBS. President Biden, in turn, dismissed the Kremlin’s claims.

Together, Sweden’s Coast Guard, military, and police authorities assessed the area surrounding the leaks. They also seized evidence from the scene of the leaks, and reported that those unspecified materials will “now be reviewed and analyzed.” The Swedish Security Service further said that their continuing investigation will aim to determine “whether someone can be served with suspicion and later prosecuted,” in another press statement.

The Nord pipelines and the wider energy industry have been the focus of much ongoing conflict and political maneuvering, as Russia’s war in Ukraine has led to the implementation of EU sanctions and retaliatory export bans. In February, Germany announced that they would block the final approval of Nord Stream 2 after the $11 billion pipeline was already completed.

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In addition to the international relations aspect of the damaged pipelines, the resulting greenhouse gas release also has big climate change implications. The methane leak may be the largest single such event in history, about two to five times larger than the 2016 Aliso Canyon incident in California. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

An analysis by the European Space Agency determined that the amount of gas bubbling out from the punctured pipelines slowed over time, as the pressure inside the lines lessened. But four days after the initial leak, just one of the four damage points was releasing 79 metric tons of methane per hour, according to ESA—equivalent to burning more than 4,500 barrels of oil.

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Though, ESA also noted that the total emissions from the Nord pipelines still pale in comparison to those regularly released by the fossil fuel industry. The estimated pipeline leaks have emitted just a fraction of the total 80 million metric tons of methane produced by oil and gas companies every year. “The latest release is roughly equivalent to one and a half days of global methane emissions,” ESA wrote.