November 2022, Vol. 249, No. 11

Editor's Notebook

Editor’s Notebook: Sabotage at the Highest Level?

By Michael Reed, Editor-in-Chief

(P&GJ) — Amid the finger-pointing and alternative conclusions that come with just about everything involving the energy sector these days, one hard fact has emerged concerning the Nord Stream: Someone deliberately blew four holes in its pipelines during a three-day period.

Only hours after a fourth leak was discovered in the pipelines, even the usually reserved North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Alliance went as far as to call what had happened a “deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage.” 

Going considerably further, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Marcin Przydacz, was quoted by The Guardian as saying, “Sadly, our eastern partner [Russia] is constantly pursuing an aggressive political course.” He added, “If it is capable of an aggressive military course in Ukraine, then it’s apparent that acts of provocations in western Europe also cannot be ruled out.” 

Russia, not surprisingly, blamed the United States, adding that President Joe Biden was “obliged” to say the U.S. was not involved or, I suppose, fess up. 

“It’s very difficult to imagine that such a terrorist act could happen without the involvement of a state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Moscow Times. He added that getting to the bottom of what happened “required the cooperation of several countries” but complained of an “acute shortage of communications and unwillingness of many countries to contact” Russia. (I wonder why that is, Dimitry. Fear of a missile attack, maybe?) 

For the record, Moscow and Washington, D.C., both later denied involvement, and on the surface an attack by Russia on its own $15 billion worth of infrastructure seems insane, but then insanity seems to be the rule rather than the exception where global politics has been concerned lately.  

At any rate, it is fortunate that neither of the system’s two pipelines was in operation when the explosions took place. Nord Stream 1 had been running at only 20% capacity since July and discontinued its service entirely in late August, with operators saying international sanctions against Russia made maintenance impossible. 

Nord Stream 2, as you know, never became operational due to Germany’s decision not to certify its completion last year. The project was halted only days before Russia invaded Ukraine. 

With no gas being shipped from either pipeline, German officials were quick to assure citizens that the damage to the two pipelines will not affect the nation’s plans to fill gas storage tanks for the winter. 

The two Nord Stream pipelines rest on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where two leaks occurred in each pipe: one each within Swedish waters and the other two in Danish waters.  

The first explosion happened on Sept. 27, southeast of the Danish Island of Bornholm, and was followed by a more powerful blast northeast of that location, which recorded a 2.3 reading on the Richter scale, according to seismologists. 

While the damage appears to be repairable, experts say mending it will be more difficult now that the gas has escaped, because both have filled with seawater and begun to corrode. (The steel pipelines have walls of 1.6 inches [4.1 cm] and are coated with steel-reinforced concrete). 

While there has been much speculation on how the explosions occurred, the use of submarines or underwater robots, barring a multi-agency conspiracy, seems unlikely, because such activity would have been detected in the Baltic, where the pipe is at an average depth of 295 feet (90 meters). 

The use of mines, dropped from passing vessels, then detonated remotely is also being investigated, according to one P&GJ source, thought that, too, would have been difficult to manage without being detected. 

Regardless of how the Nord Stream explosions were achieved and by whom, the biggest takeaway should be that preparation for attacks on undersea infrastructure will be essential going forward.  

That will be easier said than done, I know, but the necessary cooperation between nations and international organizations to achieve this could go beyond protecting assets and actually deter rogue actors. 

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