Nord Stream spill could be biggest methane leak ever, but not catastrophic

BERLIN — The two explosions at the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea resulted in what could be the largest release of methane gas ever recorded into the atmosphere, but that may not be enough to have a major effect on climate change. climate, experts say.

Although sudden influxes of methane from underwater pipelines are unusual and scientists have little precedent to rely on, the consensus is that with so much methane dumped into the atmosphere around the world, the several hundred thousands of tonnes of pipelines won’t make a dramatic difference.

“It’s not trivial, but it’s a modest-sized American city, something like that,” said Drew Shindell, professor of earth sciences at Duke University. “There are so many sources all over the world. Any single event tends to be small. I think it tends to fall into that category.

New data released by the Danish Energy Agency on Wednesday allowed scientists to produce preliminary estimates of the amount of methane released. If all of this gas reached the atmosphere, it would equal about 0.1% of estimated annual global methane emissions, according to scientists from the US Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrates Project.

From an emissions perspective, the breach is “important to monitor,” said project leader Carolyn Ruppel, who made the estimate with colleague Bill Waite. A worst-case calculation by Thomas Lauvaux, a researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France, equated it to what comes from about 1 million cars a year, compared to about 250 million cars in circulation in the European Union alone.

EU warns of ‘robust’ sabotage response after Nord Stream blasts

Other scientists have warned against underestimating the power of methane. Paul Balcombe, senior lecturer in chemical engineering and renewable energy at Queen Mary University of London, called it a “really powerful greenhouse gas” and said “even a small leak has a huge impact on the climate”.

Swedish monitoring stations that measure local atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have reported spikes since the pipeline burst, with methane concentration 20-25% higher than normal, “which is quite remarkable by compared to our long-term data series,” Thomas Holst, a researcher at Lund University in Sweden, told The Washington Post in an email, while saying that wasn’t enough to pose a risk to the health.

Monitoring stations in Finland and Norway reported similar spikes. Ruppel noted that “methane is generally well mixed in the atmosphere, so these local peaks would dissipate over the globe.”

Despite the size of the leak, it’s unlikely to affect marine life the way an oil leak might, said Jasmin Cooper, a research associate at the Sustainable Gas Institute. “The environmental impact will be towards global warming.”

Images released by the Swedish Coastguard on Thursday still show a large mass of methane bubbles on the surface of the sea emanating from the four leaks through the pipelines – not three, as authorities had originally announced.

Scientists say additional images and access to the site are needed to get a clearer picture of the leaks and to calculate how much methane could be released into the atmosphere.

“We know it’s leaking badly because we see the images and the video of the gas bubbling on the surface of the water, but we don’t know anything about the leaks,” Cooper said. “We don’t know how big they are or where they are in the pipeline, so it’s hard to determine the throughput.”

Danish officials said Wednesday they expected both pipelines to be empty by Sunday, as more than half of the gas had already been released. Once the gas runs out, they said, scientists and security officials will have better access to the site, which has been restricted for security reasons.

The dissipation of the gas will also allow forensic experts to examine the site for clues about the causes of the explosions, which have stared at security officials across Europe.

NATO issued its strongest statement to date on the Nord Stream pipeline breaches in the Baltic Sea on Thursday, calling the resulting damage “a deliberate, reckless and irresponsible act of sabotage”.

An EU official reiterated on Thursday that the pipeline damage was “no coincidence”.

The Swedish National Seismic Network estimated the force of the second, larger explosion to be the equivalent of 100 to 200 kilograms (220 to 440 pounds) of TNT. The first explosion was smaller and therefore more difficult to measure.

Weapons experts say it is difficult to guess what type of ammunition may have caused the damage. It is possible that a torpedo was used, but it is more likely that divers or an autonomous underwater vehicle put one or more demolition charges at each site. To identify the weapon or weapons used, more evidence – including additional sensor data, as well as physical evidence such as remnants of ammunition – would be required.

With the consensus among European leaders on sabotage, suspicion is increasingly falling on Russia, which has used energy supplies as leverage against Europe since invading Ukraine.

Intelligence officials began looking into communications intercepts, sonar signatures and other recordings that could point to suspicious activity in the weeks or months before the explosions. Two senior officials from two European security services said Russia remains the prime suspect because it has the technical means to carry out underground attacks on key infrastructure and has demonstrated its determination to destabilize Europe’s energy markets.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, stressed that these were preliminary analytical findings with no evidence emerging so far to implicate Moscow.

The Kremlin has denied responsibility, suggesting on Thursday that the incidents should be investigated as “an act of terrorism” and that a coordinated international investigation is needed as Russia is the majority owner of both pipelines.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, also hinted that the United States may be behind the explosions.

“The absolute beneficiary of this situation was Washington,” she said Thursday. “Mr. Blinken made no secret of the fact that the main objective was to cut off Europe from Russian energy resources, and now you don’t know who could benefit from it. It benefits you!” she added, addressing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A US official, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic, said on Wednesday that the United States had nothing to do with the attack on Nord Stream pipelines, calling the idea a “absurd”.

Francis reported from London. Greg Miller in Washington, Emily Rauhala in Brussels, Martin Selsoe Sorensen in Copenhagen, Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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