European companies are increasing security around pipelines and energy prices are rising again asdelivering natural gas from Russia underscored the vulnerability of Europe’s energy infrastructure and prompted the EU to warn of possible retaliation.
Some European officials and energy experts have said that Russia is likely to be to blame for any sabotage: it benefits directly from higher energy prices andacross Europe, though others warned against pointing fingers until investigators can determine what happened.
Russia has slashed natural gas shipments to Europe in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the West after the invasion of Ukraine. On Wednesday, Russian energy giant Gazprom stepped up the pressure, threatening on Twitter to stop negotiating with a Ukrainian company that controls one of the two remaining pipelines sending Russian gas to Europe.
In addition to the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, “that means a big escalation and the preparation to escalate,” said Agata Loskot-Strachota, a senior research fellow in energy policy at the Center for Oriental Studies in Warsaw.
Seismologists say explosions rocked the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered Tuesday in the two undersea oil pipelines running from Russia to Germany.
“All available information indicates that these leaks are the result of a deliberate act,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the 27-member bloc. “Any deliberate disruption of Europe’s energy infrastructure is absolutely unacceptable and will be met with a strong and united response.”
Three leaks were reported from the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which filled with natural gas but failed to deliver fuel to Europe since Russia stopped the flow to put economic pressure on the continent.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said accusations that Russia had sabotaged its own oil pipelines were “predictable and stupid”.
However, as fears of more disruptions surfaced, European energy companies and governments said on Wednesday they had already begun to strengthen energy infrastructure.
Norwegian state oil company Equinor said it has raised the level of preparedness at all its facilities, according to national broadcaster NRK. Norway’s energy exports have surged as European countries struggle to find alternatives to Russian supplies.
“What happened in the Baltic Sea is very serious,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told a news conference in Oslo.
Before the pipeline leaks were discovered on Tuesday, natural gas prices in Europe had fallen from their all-time high in late August as countries filled storage facilities to 87% of capacity ahead of winter, when the Demand for the fuel skyrockets to heat homes and generate electricity. .
But natural gas prices in Europe have soared about 14% since the pipeline rupture rattled nerves over energy security.
Natural gas prices are about three times higher than just before Russia invaded Ukraine. A war-induced energy crisis threatens rationing, business closures and recession in Europe. The continent’s ability to get through the winter will be profoundly affected by how cold it is and whether they can find supplies to make up for what Russia has lost.
Russia’s other major source of income, oil, has fallen sharply in price from June peaks of more than $120 a barrel. On Wednesday, Brent crude oil futures traded at $87.40 a barrel, an increase of more than 5% from Monday.
The extent of the pipeline damage, coupled with the political ramifications, raises serious questions about the future of the Nord Stream project, which was launched so that Russia could deliver gas directly to Germany. The project has been heavily criticized by the West because it only increased Europe’s dependence on Russian gas imports.
Danish Energy Agency chief Kristoffer Böttzauw said Wednesday it was unclear when it would be safe for investigators to examine the damaged pipes, which he said are made of 5-inch-thick steel encased in concrete. The pipelines lie on the seabed between 230 and 295 feet deep.
Sweden’s internal security agency said on Wednesday it was investigating the pipeline ruptures and that “a foreign power was behind it” could not be ruled out.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau was more blunt, suggesting on Tuesday that the leaks could be part of Russia’s campaign to pressure the West into supporting Ukraine.
“The explosions took place very close to Danish territorial waters, but not within them, because that would have meant NATO territory,” Rau said during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“This could mean that someone is trying to intimidate the Baltic Sea countries,” he said.
On Wednesday, Moscow said it had called a Friday meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the damage to the Nord Stream pipelines, according to Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the international body.
Even with eyes turned to Russia, Anders Puck Nielsen, a researcher at the Royal Danish Defense College’s Center for Maritime Operations, said it would be difficult to establish who is responsible, and just as difficult to prevent similar incidents.
“We have oil pipelines, we have communication cables like the Internet. We only have power lines on the bottom of the sea. All this is vulnerable and our societies depend a lot on it. And it is very, very difficult to monitor what is happening and prevent a case of sabotage. “, he told The Associated Press.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declined to respond to media reports that the CIA had warned Germany earlier this summer that pipelines could be attacked. “But let me say that based on our findings, there is no evidence that there is a natural cause for the pressure drop in the pipes,” spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters.
Simone Tagliapietra, an energy policy expert at Bruegel, said Russia’s latest threat to cut off the flow of natural gas through Ukraine is not having as much of an impact as she might have hoped.
“Their announcements now have less of an impact on prices as both the market and governments have internalized and prepared for a complete shutdown of Russian gas to Europe,” Tagliapietra said.