May 2023, Vol. 250, No. 5

Editor's Notebook

Editor’s Notebook: Nord Stream Questions Grow Murkier

By Michael Reed, Editor-in-Chief

(P&GJ) — While the investigation into who deliberately blew up Nord Stream continues, the operator of the previously functional first line appears to be taking a serious look at how it will seal and empty the pipeline before more damage occurs.

The longer the pipeline remains exposed the sea water, the worse it will corrode, stakeholder E.ON told members of the media at a recent news conference in Essen, Germany. 

While it seems improbably that repair efforts on the ruptured line will take place in the near future, Spieker said any such decision will likely be made with “the support of all shareholders.”  

The damage, however, which experts have said appears repairable, would be difficult to fix now that it has filled with seawater and the 1.6 inches (4.1 cm) wall of the pipeline has begun to deteriorate. 

However, common sense dictates that it is unlikely repairs will be seriously considered as long as Russia’s war with Ukraine continues and another attack is possible. Moscow has signaled it will give up on Europe, at least for the time being, focusing on gas demand from Asia instead.  

At the time of the first explosion, September 26, 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.  

In additional comments, the company’s CFO Marc Spieker said, “We continue to exercise our rights as a minority shareholder in the Nord Stream 1 operating company. Whether a repair will be attempted at some point in the future ... is completely speculative from today’s point of view.”  

During the same event, E.ON announced it had written off the entire value of its 15.5% stake in Nord Stream 1, which had been valued at $1.3 billion (1.2 billion euros). 

Nord Stream 2 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. 

Whether or not the Nord Stream 1 ever returns to service, speculation about the perpetrators of the explosions continues, often with little evidence supporting these theories. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said recent theories pointing to last year’s explosions being detonated by a pro-Ukrainian group are “complete non-sense,” adding that such precision required “state level” involvement. He suggested, once again, that the United States is the perpetrator, pointing to its interest in replacing Russia’s “inexpensive” natural gas with more expensive U.S. LNG. 

Additionally, Putin claimed a ship rented by Gazprom had found an antenna-like object – possibly used in the detonation – had been found 19 miles (30 km) from where the blasts occurred. 

Then there is the John Grisham-like scenario, presented in an article by Pulitzer Prize-winner Seymour Hersh, that claims the United States and Norway collaborated to blow up the pipelines, saying U.S. Navy divers planted C4 explosives at the site, using the BALTOPS 22 international naval exercise, held in June 2022, as cover.  

The article claims the explosives were triggered by a Norwegian Navy aircraft, using sonar, months later. Harming the credibility of the report is the fact that it failed to offer much in the way of supporting evidence. 

Russia said it will continue to demand an international investigation into explosions under the Baltic Sea, after failing to win backing for a probe at the United Nations. For the record, Moscow and Washington, D.C., have both denied involvement, and on the surface an attack by Russia on its own $15 billion worth of infrastructure seems unlikely.  

The 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 initial blast recorded a 2.3 reading on the Richter scale. 

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