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Nord Stream pipeline blasts were likely from explosions, not earthquakes, seismologist says

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Sep 28, 2022

Seismic activity detected at the site of the Nord Stream pipelines gas leaks in the Baltic Sea was caused by explosions – not earthquakes or landslides, a Swedish seismologist said Tuesday. 

Bjorn Lund, director of the Swedish National Seismic Network, said he and his colleagues gathered seismic data showing that explosions took place in the water and not in the rock under the seabed. 

The explosions rattled the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines running underwater from Russia to Germany.

Lund said the first explosion was recorded early Monday southeast of the Danish Island of Bornholm. A second, stronger blast northeast of the island that night was equivalent to a magnitude-2.3 earthquake. 

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Seismic stations in Denmark, Norway, and Finland also registered the explosions. 

“There’s no doubt, this is not an earthquake,” Lund said.

Multiple European officials have pointed to possible sabotage amid an energy standoff with Russia provoked by the war in Ukraine.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her government regarded the leaks as the results of “deliberate actions” by unknown perpetrators. 

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, meanwhile, called the events “an act of sabotage,” one that “probably means the next step of escalation in the situation that we are dealing with in Ukraine.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that American officials have not confirmed sabotage or an attack.

The Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines are filled with natural gas but are not delivering the fuel to Europe, overshadowing the inauguration of a long-awaited pipeline that will bring Norwegian gas to Poland to bolster the continent’s energy independence from Moscow.

The gas leaks created a foamy white area on the water’s surface, images released by Denmark’s military show. Danish Energy Minister Dan Jørgensen said that “we cannot say how long the leak will go” on as the gas has not been turned off. 

The escaped natural gas is made up almost entirely of methane, the second-biggest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide.

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No official presented evidence of what caused the Nord Stream problems, but with distrust of Russia running high, some feared Moscow sabotaged its own infrastructure out of spite or to warn that pipelines are vulnerable to attack. 

The extent of the damage means the Nord Stream pipelines are unlikely to be able to carry any gas to Europe this winter even if there was political will to bring them online, analysts at the Eurasia Group said. Russia has halted flows on the 760-mile Nord Stream 1 pipeline during the war, while Germany prevented them from ever starting in the parallel Nord Stream 2.

The Nord Stream pipelines have been at the center of an energy clash between Europe and Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in late February. Plunging Russian gas supplies have caused prices to soar, pressuring governments to help ease the pain of sky-high energy bills for households and businesses as winter nears. 

The Baltic Pipe is a prominent element in the European Union’s search for energy security and is to start bringing Norwegian gas through Denmark and along the Baltic Sea to Poland on Oct. 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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