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Gas leaks spur worry that Russia-Europe pipeline was sabotaged

Amid a monthslong energy standoff over Russia's war in Ukraine, two arteries meant to bring Russian gas to the West are leaking into the Baltic Sea.

BORNHOLM, Denmark (CN) — A Danish navy frigate is heading to patrol the Baltic Sea near Bornholm, an island in eastern Denmark, on Tuesday while authorities investigate a trio of gas leaks from pipelines meant to supply Germany and the EU with Russian gas.

The Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 were the product of billions of dollars in investment and years of tense political maneuvering but have been shut down during the invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the energy standoff, however, gas still stored in the pipes is now leaking into the Baltic Sea. Aerial photos taken over the area show that the water is “bubbling” southeast from Bornholm, Denmark’s Military Operation center said Monday evening, according to Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.

Footage released by Denmark’s military Tuesday afternoon shows a field of bubbles emerging on the ocean surface. The military said that the largest leak creates a bubbling field with a diameter of 1 kilometer (0.62 miles). The smallest leak creates a circle of around 200 meters.

Danish authorities first detected the leak in the Nord Stream 2, which has never been used, on Monday. Two leaks were detected soon thereafter in the Nord Stream 1.

While “it is still too early to conclude," Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen underscored Tuesday, she called it possible that the leaks are a result of sabotage.

“It is an unusual situation when it is about three leaks with distances. It is hard to imagine that this is a coincidence,” Frederiksen told Danish broadcaster TV2.

Russian President Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov is contemplating the possibility of sabotage as well. “No scenario can be ruled out at the moment,” said on Tuesday, according to Reuters, adding that Russia is worried about the situation.

Denmark’s police and relevant authorities are now working together under a national operational staff called NOST to handle the situation, Danish broadcaster DR is reporting.

Bornholm’s police issued a statement meanwhile assuring residents that the gas leak will not bring any health risks to the island.

Denmark’s Defense Minister Morten Bødskov announced that a ship has been sent to the area to investigate the marine environment.

“The most important thing right now is to get an overview of the situation and ensure that maritime safety can continue as smooth and safe as possible,” Bødskov said

“There are no gas particles in the air, and there is no danger for the residents of Bornholm,” he added.

Measurements recorded by the Swedish National Seismic Centre show that two explosions were registered next to the pipes on Monday, Swedish broadcaster SVT reported.

“You can clearly see how the waves bounce from the bottom to the surface. There is no doubt that it was a blast or explosion. We even had a station in Kalix that picked this up,” said Björn Lund, lecturer in seismology and director of the Swedish National Seismic Centre.

Denmark’s Energy body said that it could take up to a week before the pipes are empty. Only then will it be possible to repair the damage, Politiken reported. The danger of an explosion removes the option of stopping the leak.

Authorities have established a safety zone of around 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) surrounding the leaking pipes. Aircraft are forbidden to fly near the spots.

NATO is following the situation closely. Allies are investigating the leaks and sharing information with Finland and Sweden, which are both now in the process of becoming members, a NATO representative said to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Experts said that the leaks won’t influence the energy supply in Europe, as they had already been shut down, but countries surrounding the pipes are taking the situation very seriously. 

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