The Nord Stream Pipeline Sabotage Is a Climate Catastrophe

News Feed
Thursday, September 29, 2022

This story was originally published by Slate‘s Future Tense partnership and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. On Monday, Danish officials broadcast a warning to ships navigating its nearby waters: There was a massive leak from Nord Stream 2, the Russian-owned pipeline built to transfer natural gas from the former Soviet Union to Germany through the Baltic Sea. That same day, the pipeline’s operators also announced a drop in pressure in its Nord Stream 1 line—which runs parallel with the second line—due to two points of leakage. Neither pipeline was operational at the time, but both had been filled to capacity, with 300 million total cubic meters of gas ready to go just in case. Now, all that fuel is rapidly draining. The photos from the Baltic Sea are stunning. Se video og fotos af gaslækagerne på Nord Stream 1 og 2-gasledningerne i Østersøen på https://t.co/pj96CN7CDB: https://t.co/7bgt8TljaH #dkforsvar pic.twitter.com/I1zEPaBLYO — Forsvaret (@forsvaretdk) September 27, 2022 Danish Director of Energy Management Kristoffer Böttzauw soon announced that Nord Stream 2’s puncture was a “really big hole” unleashing a 1-kilometer-long stream of gas bubbles in the water. The damage occurred the same day a Norway-to-Poland gas pipeline meant to exclude Russia was being inaugurated near the Baltic Sea, sparking international speculation, including from the European Union, that Nord Stream was sabotaged. Swedish and German scientists told the Wall Street Journal that they were positive the pipes were hit by “blasts” of a “targeted” nature. Poland’s head of state is convinced this was a symbolic act of aggression by Russia; the Kremlin, for its part, has called such accusations “stupid”  and referred to the situation as a “concern.” Right-wingers from all over the world have in turn pointed to February remarks by U.S. President Joe Biden (“If Russia invades … there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2”) to suggest he’s behind this. His administration has said it “stand[s] ready to provide support” to Europe and that a disaster like this is “clearly in no one’s interest.” The exact reasons for Nord Stream’s plight remain unknown. In the meantime, Europe is mobilizing additional security around its waters and energy sources, while climate officials urge action to halt the gas leakage, an effort Denmark estimates will take over a week. Gas prices in Europe—already high in part because of Russia limiting exports—shot up by 20 percent in response to the news, even though nations like Germany say the leaks do not affect their current gas supplies. (The future looks less certain.) To take stock of the significance of the pipelines, the nature of the harms, and the ramifications, I spoke with Samantha Gross, director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution and a frequent commentator on European energy issues. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. Nitish Pahwa: How would you explain the significance of Nord Stream 1 and 2 to someone unfamiliar with the pipelines? Samantha Gross: Before the crisis, Russia supplied about 40 percent of Europe’s overall natural gas. Nord Stream 1 was finished in 2011, and its geopolitical impact was to make Ukraine a less important transit country: It lessened the number of Russian exports going through Ukraine as well as the amount of money Russia was paying Ukraine to transit the country and ship gas through it. Nord Stream 2 is basically a twin to Nord Stream 1, a capacity of gas that Russia could send directly into Germany. The Germans were always in favor of the project. They viewed Russian natural gas as a reliable supply and liked the idea of it coming directly into their country. The United States and other countries in Europe were wary of Russia messing with supplies through Ukraine, knowing the Kremlin had done that in the past, so it felt like the pipeline was more of a geopolitical statement than an energy project. Nord Stream 2 is basically complete, but it never got its last permit from the European Union—the Germans officially pulled their support in the project after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Nord Stream 2 has never delivered gas, although there was gas in it, probably because it was so close to completion. I think there was just too much operational difficulty to empty it given the circumstances. Nord Stream 1 has been delivering gas for several years, and has even delivered gas off and on during the crisis. Nord Stream 1 has the capacity to transmit about 167 million cubic meters a day, and then Nord Stream 2 would have doubled that capacity. Nord Stream 1 had been operating at between 10 percent and 20 percent of its capacity, and Russia has played a number of games. In some cases the country has been very straightforward—we are shutting off gas for political reasons, we don’t want to supply gas to Europe—and it’s using gas as a way to try to weaken Europe’s support for Ukraine. There have also been some games Russia’s been playing where it seems it’s looking for plausible deniability about cutting back supplies to Europe. There have been times when it’s said Nord Stream 1 has maintenance issues or something like, We’re waiting for a compressor that’s coming back from the West, but they won’t send it, when the West has been like, That compressor’s right here waiting for you. The holes in both pipelines are quite large, so there are assumptions that this could be a deliberate attack. Sabotage. How likely do you think that is? We’ll need to look at the investigations that come from Denmark and Germany and others for accurate reflections of what’s actually going on. It does seem a little crazy for Russia to sabotage its own infrastructure, but if it is looking for more plausible deniability about its cutbacks of gas supply to Europe, this is one way to do it. It has been my base case of thinking that Russia would continue to cut back gas to Europe over this winter. I’m thinking of that as the most likely option—not an outlier, but what I actually expect to happen. And if Russia wants to do that with some degree of semiplausible deniability, sabotaging this infrastructure would be a way to do it. That doesn’t prove they did it—it just means they could have some motive to do it. I would rely on other investigations and not what comes out of Russia, because they’ve been completely dishonest about conditions on the pipeline for a while. What do you think the geopolitical implications of this might be? It remains to be seen. In the near term, it’s not much of a different situation than we already expected for this winter when it comes to gas supply. The longer-term question would be future supply through those pipelines and whether, honestly, they ever get repaired. Europe is trying to move away from Russian gas, and they’ll never again view Russia as a reliable supplier—the Kremlin’s supplies of gas are politically motivated and unreliable. And if the pipelines are extensively damaged, they might never get fixed. So, it could change conditions in the future, but I don’t think it changes the immediate future much. I haven’t seen the size of the methane release there, but I also want to point out that methane is a really potent greenhouse gas— I was just going to ask about that. The fact that there’s a serious methane leak in the Baltic Sea is awful from an environmental perspective. So, if it turns out that Russia did this, then frankly, this is not just damaging to a piece of infrastructure—it’s also a climate disaster, and that is really, really unfortunate. I’m wondering what you think this leak means for the climate this year and in the future, especially as we already face this swirling sea of disasters. I mean, the world releases a lot of greenhouse gases, so I don’t think this is going to make a tangible difference in the world’s overall efforts to combat global warming, I just think it’s a bad thing that happened. As to how bad, we haven’t really seen those numbers, and the pipelines are still leaking, so we still don’t know what the overall release will end up being. If this damage is just too vast for any sort of immediate or even long-term repairs, I’m wondering what the implications are, in terms of environmental or international relations, of leaving two extremely damaged and leaky pipelines in the Baltic Sea. At some point they’re going to do something such that this is no longer an environmental hazard. That’s going to have to happen. I’m not sure how long it will take, but that will get fixed. An ongoing methane leak like that will not be allowed to go, to the extent anybody can do anything about it. There are concerns all around the world right now about what this winter is going to signify for Europe, as they’re facing high energy prices, not to mention how natural gas is connected to so many heating systems. Gas prices in Europe are now shooting up, I assume as a reaction to further shakeups in the market. Yeah, or the fear that this means there may be even less gas available for the winter than they thought. Right. What do you think this could pertain for energy costs and general confidence in gas markets going into the future? Europe was going to get very little gas supply from Russia for the winter, so it’s been furiously filling up its storage—it’s actually getting close to full. The trick is going to be that Europe generally doesn’t only use stored gas during the winter—it also gets additional ongoing supply, and that’s everything from local European production to liquified natural gas to using fuel switching, like running other kinds of power plants to save the gas for other uses that are more difficult to replace. Like, you could eventually replace your furnace, but distributing electric heat pumps to millions of homes is not going to happen by November, so those homes are still going to rely on gas for heating. Or if you look at certain industries that use natural gas, those are harder to replace. Will there be enough gas to meet home-heating and also industrial demand? It really depends on the weather: If Europe has an especially cold winter, it’s going to be difficult. And if there are any disruptions in global supply of liquefied natural gas, that’s going to be problematic. Because Europe is sucking in LNG from all over the world and at high prices, this is actually harming other markets in the world—Asia, for instance, which uses a ton of LNG, and its prices are very high as well. Because the LNG market connects gas markets in different parts of the world, you’re seeing this crisis spread. It’s nearly global. The only reason why U.S. natural gas prices haven’t reacted more is because we’re shipping out every molecule of natural gas that we can through our LNG export facilities, and they’re at capacity. We can’t send any more. If we could, the high prices would attract it, and our natural gas prices here would go up more. Last year, when Texas had those rolling blackouts, it turned out that the natural gas lines, which were not winterized, had frozen over, and people froze to death in their homes. Is there a similar situation in the cards for Europe? If the winter is especially cold, that is possible. That’s really why you’re seeing European governments work to subsidize natural gas, where they can for consumers, who can’t afford it. I know that people who are really focused on climate issues are probably frustrated by that, but we’re stuck with the energy system we have. We can’t change it on a dime. The energy crisis this year has led some people to say: “It’s because we’re tamping down fossil fuels that we’re in this situation. Everyone needs to go back to fracking.” The UK just lifted its ban on the practice. I’m wondering what you make of all that. I think the people who are blaming the current crisis on the energy transition are just wrong. The transition is not moving along fast enough such that renewables are somehow messing up the system that we have. It’s taking us a while to transition. You’ve definitely seen perhaps less investments in fossil fuels than you would have otherwise, but I think the lack of investment in fossil fuels we’ve seen in recent years is really more because of the pandemic than it is because of the energy transition. There are still plenty of fossil fuels in the world, and plenty of people willing to invest in them, and the lack of investment is more the pandemic than it is the energy transition. And look, the energy transition is ultimately a partial solution to problems like this. If we had more renewable energy and other kinds of non-fossil energy in our system, these problems would be less dire. Geopolitical issues would be less relevant when it comes to global fuels and energy supply. The problem is that we have to feed the system we have today while still thinking about the transition. If you were an official in Germany working with environmental or climate ministers, what are some of the first steps you might take? If I were making policy over there right now, the primary words on my lips would be conservation and efficiency. There’s no question—pipeline or no pipeline, accident or no accident—that Europe is facing a real gas crisis this winter, and so I would talk until I was blue in the face about the need to conserve gas this winter, to turn their thermostats down, and why that’s important for every German and every European. It could actually save jobs by allowing some gas to flow to industry and keep the economy afloat. It’s not often that ordinary people’s actions make a huge difference in a big geopolitical crisis, but they do now. Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

This story was originally published by Slate‘s Future Tense partnership and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. On Monday, Danish officials broadcast a warning to ships navigating its nearby waters: There was a massive leak from Nord Stream 2, the Russian-owned pipeline built to transfer natural gas from the former Soviet Union to Germany through […]

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

‘I came into politics so I could continue to be an activist’: Steven Guilbeault on oil, idealism and being branded a traitor

Nicknamed ‘Green Jesus’, Canada’s environment minister once scaled the CN Tower in a climate protest. Ahead of efforts at Cop15 in Montreal to stop the destruction of nature, he explains why he approved a controversial oil projectA young boy in rural Canada learns the forest he loves will be chopped down, so he scales one of the trees and refuses to leave. He fails in his mission – but the destruction resonates deeply. In his adolescence, he studies politics and theology, fascinated by questions of power and moral obligation. As an adult, he scales the world’s tallest building – which was then the CN Tower in Toronto – to protest the destruction of the climate, only leaving when he’s escorted down in handcuffs. He rejects owning a car, cycling through the pounding rain, sleet and ice of a Quebec winter. A local newspaper calls him “Green Jesus”.Fast forward to April 2022 and that same man, Steven Guilbeault, greenlights a controversial oil-drilling project off the coast of Newfoundland in his role as Canada’s minister of environment and climate change. Continue reading...

Nicknamed ‘Green Jesus’, Canada’s environment minister once scaled the CN Tower in a climate protest. Ahead of efforts at Cop15 in Montreal to stop the destruction of nature, he explains why he approved a controversial oil projectA young boy in rural Canada learns the forest he loves will be chopped down, so he scales one of the trees and refuses to leave. He fails in his mission – but the destruction resonates deeply. In his adolescence, he studies politics and theology, fascinated by questions of power and moral obligation. As an adult, he scales the world’s tallest building – which was then the CN Tower in Toronto – to protest the destruction of the climate, only leaving when he’s escorted down in handcuffs. He rejects owning a car, cycling through the pounding rain, sleet and ice of a Quebec winter. A local newspaper calls him “Green Jesus”.Fast forward to April 2022 and that same man, Steven Guilbeault, greenlights a controversial oil-drilling project off the coast of Newfoundland in his role as Canada’s minister of environment and climate change. Continue reading...

A changing of the guard in Sacramento

Three days before California’s new state Legislature is set to be sworn into office — and to convene a special session focused on oil industry profits — it’s still not clear who will occupy two of the seats. As of Thursday evening, Democrat Christy Holstege and Republican Greg Wallis each had 50% of the vote […]

Three days before California’s new state Legislature is set to be sworn into office — and to convene a special session focused on oil industry profits — it’s still not clear who will occupy two of the seats. As of Thursday evening, Democrat Christy Holstege and Republican Greg Wallis each had 50% of the vote for a state Assembly seat straddling Riverside and San Bernardino counties. And Republican David Shepard was leading Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado 50.1% to 49.9% for a state Senate seat looping around east Bakersfield, California’s most fiercely contested stretch of political turf. (One California U.S. House race also remains too close to call.) Shepard told local news outlet GV Wire that he plans to be in Sacramento on Monday, noting that Kern County is California’s largest oil producer: “The fact that there would not be a representative there” at the start of the special session “is a complete and total slap in the fact of the constituents here,” Shepard said. Hurtado, meanwhile, said she doesn’t plan to join the swearing-in ceremony “unless it’s clear that I’m the winner.” That state lawmakers could be sworn into office before every race has been called is just another quirk of California’s lengthy vote-counting process, designed to improve accessibility and ensure accuracy but nevertheless a source of frustration for many. County elections officials have until Dec. 9 to submit their final results, and the secretary of state must certify them by Dec. 16. But, even with two seats up in the air, history has been made: Californians elected at least 49 female lawmakers and could seat as many as 51 — up from the previous record of 39, set during the legislative session that officially came to a close at the end of Wednesday. Among them: Democrat Jasmeet Bains, who won an Assembly seat representing Bakersfield and will become the first South Asian woman in the Legislature. Republican lawmakers are highlighting diversity milestones, too: Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City announced Thursday that Bill Essayli of Riverside will become the first American Muslim to serve in the Assembly, bringing “a unique perspective to the Republican Caucus” along with a “strong criminal justice background.” Also set in stone: Democrats’ supermajority, which allows them to pass bills and budgets without a single Republican vote. As of Thursday, Democrats controlled 62 of 80 Assembly seats and 31 of 40 Senate seats. Nearly one-third of lawmakers — at least 37 of 120 — will be new to Sacramento, paving the way for new political dynamics and new legislative priorities. But some legislators are giving us a sneak peek of what to expect during the next session, which will begin in earnest in January after the largely ceremonial swearing-in Monday: Democratic state Sens. Steve Glazer and Josh Newman said they plan to introduce an urgency bill Monday to exempt federal student loan forgiveness from state income taxes, a move backed by legislative leadership. Whether the federal government will be able to proceed with loan forgiveness is up in the air: The U.S. Supreme Court said Thursday it will review the legality of the plan, which has been blocked by lower courts. Democratic state Sen. Nancy Skinner said she will unveil a bill to strengthen existing protections for people who come to California “seeking refuge from prosecution by other states that have criminalized abortions or health care that supports and affirms an individual’s gender identity.” Republican state Sen. Brian Jones announced plans for bills to suspend the state gas tax — which will almost certainly be dead on arrival — and to ban homeless encampments near schools, libraries, day care centers and parks. A message from our sponsor The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 10,651,573 confirmed cases and 96,803 deaths, according to state data now updated just once a week on Thursdays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county. California has administered 85,632,857 vaccine doses, and 72.4% of eligible Californians have received their primary vaccine series. Other Stories You Should Know 1 California environmental updates An aerial view shows the California Aqueduct, part of the State Water Project, outside Bakersfield on Dec. 15, 2021. Photo by Aude Guerrucci, Reuters From CalMatters water reporter Alastair Bland: The major storm that descended Thursday on California brought much-needed rain and snow to the state — but it didn’t change the grim forecast for thirsty cities parched by three consecutive years of drought: The state Department of Water Resources announced that local water agencies in 2023 will receive an initial allocation of just 5% of supplies requested from the State Water Project, which channels Northern California water south to 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland. (The communities served generally have other sources of water to draw from, but many of those are also strained by drought.) The 5% allocation underscores that the state expects the drought to continue putting extreme stress on water supplies — though final delivery amounts could change. In fact, most years the initial allocation goes up. Last December, for example, the initial allocation was 0% before a surge of late-year storms prompted state water officials to boost it to 15%. Then, a dry-as-dust winter led them to cut it to 5% in March. And for 2019, an initial allocation of 10% ballooned into a final figure of 75%. For now, precipitation in the months ahead — including accumulated mountain snowpack — will help determine how much water the state ultimately delivers.   In other Thursday environmental news: As Newsom ramps up his crusade against oil industry profits, the Center for Biological Diversity sued his administration for approving more than a dozen new oil and gas wells in Los Angeles and Kern counties, alleging they didn’t go through a proper environmental review process. State regulators cleared PG&E to exit a strengthened oversight process it was placed into last year for its role in a string of destructive wildfires, determining that the utility had taken corrective actions to clear vegetation along its highest-risk power lines. The California Public Utilities Commission also announced a new framework to help utilities transition away from natural gas projects as part of the state’s ambitious climate goals. Climate and solar advocates gathered in cities across California to urge the Public Utilities Commission to make further changes to its recently revised plan to overhaul the state’s rooftop solar program, arguing it still discourages residents from installing solar panels and could jeopardize the state’s clean energy goals. 2 How might California fix its prison ‘disaster’? Kern Valley State Prison in Delano on Nov. 15, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local When it comes to operating prisons, California needs to learn the difference between liberal policies and stupid ones. That was one of the key takeaways of CalMatters justice reporter Nigel Duara’s conversation with Francis Cullen, a former president of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences who won the 2022 Stockholm Prize in Criminology — which has been described as the field’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which runs the state’s prison system, has brought Cullen in to address its administrators, particularly as it relates to community corrections programs. But over the past few decades, California’s prisons have gone from being an international model for rehabilitation to a cautionary tale, Cullen contends. For more details on how that happened — and how Cullen thinks California can return to being a model for the rest of the world — check out his interview with Nigel. 3 California’s strangest housing story of the year A mountain lion wanders next to a home on Ethelbee Way in North Tustin on Dec. 26, 2020. Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG What was California’s wildest housing story of 2022? As you can imagine, it’s hard to pick just one in a place like the Golden State: There was the court ruling that essentially equated college students with pollution, pushing UC Berkeley to the brink of slashing its incoming enrollment by thousands of slots. There was Fresno’s attempt to boost local spirits by hanging banners throughout the city, including one that said it had the nation’s hottest housing market — a quote taken from a Los Angeles Times story that found rising prices were in fact making it more difficult for longtime residents to live there. But none could top the wealthy Silicon Valley of Woodside, which declared itself a mountain lion sanctuary in an attempt to bypass a new state law ending single-family zoning in most areas. In this beloved “Avocado of the Fortnight” episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon interview Angela Swartz, the reporter who first broke the story for The Almanac. (Why is this episode dubbed “Avocado of the Fortnight”? You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out!) CalMatters Commentary CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: What’s next for Newsom’s oil profits tax proposal? UC strike hurts both students and workers: United Auto Workers’ demands could drive up housing costs, siphon much-needed funds from other programs, hamper student instruction and hurt the very workers the union represents, argue Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairpersons of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Striking UC workers deserve better pay and benefits: UC’s excellence is derived from these employees’ essential labor, and they make our work as faculty possible. They need a living wage — as a sign on the picket line put it, “Passion doesn’t pay rent,” argues Stacy Torres, an assistant professor of sociology at the UC San Francisco School of Nursing. Other things worth your time Some stories may require a subscription to read L.A. County COVID surge raises prospect of indoor mask mandate. // Los Angeles Times A California hospital opened a critical care unit for kids. Then four died. // San Francisco Chronicle Gun dealing sent a San Diego County sheriff’s captain to prison. New evidence suggests the corruption ran much deeper. // San Diego Union-Tribune 300 health department employees with secret side gigs come forward after scandal. // San Francisco Standard Officers shoot 2 inmates after stabbing at California prison. // Associated Press Mayor-elect Karen Bass’ daughter ‘not seriously hurt’ in hit-and-run crash. // Los Angeles Times Opinion: ‘We’ let blind, mentally ill, homeless Mark Rippee die in Vacaville. But let’s name names. // Sacramento Bee Striking UC student workers occupy chancellor’s office in Berkeley to push for deal. // San Francisco Chronicle L.A. schools grapple with ban on nearby homeless encampments. // EdSource Fresno teachers union pushing for free student laundry, lifetime health benefits in contract talks. // EdSource One reason the California Supreme Court is less divided than SCOTUS? It has more women, says chief justice. // San Francisco Chronicle California panel sizes up reparations for Black citizens. // New York Times Losing pandemic benefits meant losing a lifeline for many Black and older people in California, report finds. // Sacramento Bee Mass Bay Area tech layoffs thrust thousands of H-1B visa holders into frantic job hunt. // KQED California, others ask court to temporarily stop $4 billion Albertsons dividend payment. // Reuters San Diego taxpayers, not SDG&E, must pay to move gas pipelines for Pure Water project, judge rules. // San Diego Union-Tribune California water thieves are getting away with it. // Grist A giant sea cow once roamed California’s coast. Its disappearance is linked to major transformation. // San Francisco Chronicle President Biden announces new national monument near Nevada-California border. // Mercury News

Suggested Viewing

Join us to forge
a sustainable future

Our team is always growing.
Become a partner, volunteer, sponsor, or intern today.
Let us know how you would like to get involved!

CONTACT US

sign up for our mailing list to stay informed on the latest films and environmental headlines.

Subscribers receive a free day pass for streaming Cinema Verde.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.