Nord Stream operator decries ‘unprecedented’ damage to three pipelines

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The operator of the Nord Stream pipelines built to carry Russian gas to Europe on Tuesday reported “unprecedented” damage to the system, raising suspicions of sabotage after mysterious leaks caused sudden drops in pressure to three underwater lines in the Baltic Sea.

The leaks had no immediate impact on energy supplies to the European Union but raised concerns about serious environmental damage from methane, a greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to climate change.

“The damage that occurred in one day simultaneously at three lines of offshore pipelines of the Nord Stream system are unprecedented,” the company, Nord Stream AG, said in a statement to Russian state news agencies.

Two of the damaged pipes are part of Nord Stream 1, normally a major transmission line of Russian natural gas to Europe, while the third is part of Nord Stream 2, which Western nations have blocked from becoming fully operational as part of sanctions over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia has cut transmission through Nord Stream 1 in retaliation for Western sanctions, though the Kremlin has also blamed technical failures. Gas, however, remains in the undersea pipelines even if deliveries are halted.

Russia’s Gazprom says it won’t reopen Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe as planned

Nord Stream 2’s operator said pressure in the undersea pipeline dropped to 7 bar from 105 bar overnight.

Officials said that the damage may have been sabotage. “It is hard to imagine that it is accidental,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in Poland, according to the Danish newspaper Politiken. “We cannot rule out sabotage, but it is too early to conclude.”

Frederiksen spoke at a ceremony in Goleniów, Poland on Tuesday for the opening of the new Baltic Pipe, which will carry natural gas to Poland and neighboring countries from Norway through Denmark.

Europe has been scrambling to diversify supplies and reduce reliance on Russian energy.

After Russia cut off Nord Stream 1 in retaliation for the sanctions, halting supplies to Germany, Poland and other nations, European leaders, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, accused the Kremlin of using fossil fuels for “blackmail.”

A spokesman for the European Commission said that although gas supplies were not at risk because of the new leaks, officials were concerned about potential environmental damage.

“This hasn’t affected the security of supply as yet,” the spokesman, Tim McPhie said. “As you know deliveries have been zero on Nord Stream 1 anyway, and North Stream 2 is not yet authorized to operate. We are also analyzing the potential impact of these leaks of methane, which is a gas which of course has considerable effects on climate change, and we are in touch with the member states about the potential impact on maritime navigation.”

Still, the damage to the three pipelines delivered yet another reminder that Europe must brace for a difficult winter without reliable supplies of Russian gas. In its statement the Nord Stream operator said “it is impossible to estimate” when the pipelines will be fixed.

When Russia halted supplies via Nord Stream 1 earlier this month citing technical problems, it accused the West of refusing to provide turbines needed for repairs.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Swedish Maritime Authority had issued a warning of two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in Swedish and Danish waters. The warning came shortly after a leak on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipe was discovered in Danish waters.

Danish and Swedish authorities said they were investigating the leaks and introduced a five-mile radius exclusion zone, near the Danish island of Bornholm, where ships are banned.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said the Russian government was “extremely concerned” about the damage.

“This is very alarming information, there some damage in the pipe in the Danish economic zone, it is not yet clear what kind,” Peskov told reporters during his daily conference call. “The pressure has dropped considerably. This is an unprecedented situation that needs to be dealt with urgently.”

Peskov also said Russia is not “excluding any options” after a report by the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, suggesting potential sabotage.

In a statement, the German Energy Ministry was informed of “a sharp drop in pressure” in the Nordstream 2 pipeline, but said that it did not have “clarity about the causes and the exact facts.”

The European Commission’s chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, said the cause of the leaks was still unknown. “We believe we do not have the elements in order to determine what is the reason for the leak,” Mamer said. “Obviously, any act of sabotage on any infrastructure is something that we would condemn.”

Beatriz Rios in Brussels and Meg Kelly in Berlin contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an address to the nation on Sept. 21, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” Follow our live updates here.

The fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive has forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Annexation referendums: Staged referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are set to take place from Sept. 23 to 27 in the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. Another staged referendum will be held by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson starting Friday.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

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