Gas leaks in both offshore pipelines that supply most European nations with this fuel could be some of the largest and worst in history and have disastrous environmental. A total of four leaks in the Baltic Sea have been so far discovered, with many including the European Union accusing Russia of sabotaging the pipelines.

Around 300,000 metric tons of methane are estimated to have escaped from the damaged Nord Stream pipelines and entered the atmosphere so far, according to the German environment agency. Methane, a key driver of climate change, is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, having about 80 times the warming potential of CO2 over 20 years.

Nord Stream 1 (NS1) and Nord Stream 2 (NS2) are a pair of undersea natural gas pipelines that stretch for 1,200 kilometres (754 miles) from the Russian coast near St. Petersburg to north-eastern Germany. NS1 alone supplies EU nations with about 35% of all the gas they import from Russia.

Neither pipeline was transporting gas at the time of rupture, meaning the malfunctions will not affect Russia’s gas supplies to Europe. However, both of them contained gas that is now quickly making its way to the sea surface and into the atmosphere.

gas leaks; nord stream

Nord Stream has been at the centre of debates over the past couple of months, as Russia progressively reduced gas flows to Europe in response to the sanctions imposed by member states following Ukraine’s invasion. Gas shortages are having huge repercussions on the EU’s economy and have contributed to a 700%-increase in gas prices so far this year.

While it is difficult to confirm these estimates and establish the precise volume of dispersed methane, there is no doubt that we are looking at a “catastrophic level” that will have an environmental impact “similar to at least 1 million cars on the road for a full year”, Vice President of measurements and strategic initiatives at the leading company for emissions monitoring from space GHGSat Jean-Francois Gauthier, told the Financial Times.

On Thursday, the European Union joined others in condemning Russia for sabotaging the pipelines, following the discovery of a fourth gas leak by Sweden’s coast guard. The first malfunctions were spotted on Monday when the Danish military noticed huge air bubbles about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles)  in diameter in the Baltic Sea waters off Denmark. Seismologists confirmed the leaks as they detected explosions at the site, which are likely to have caused the pipelines to rupture. 

It might take between 3 to 6 months to replace the damaged components, but the environmental impact of the Nord Stream leaks will be seen much earlier.

Featured Image by Danish Defence Command/AP

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