Nord Stream pipeline leaks are ‘catastrophic for the climate’

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The methane leak is likely the largest explosion of the potent greenhouse gas on record in one of the most polluted bodies of water.

The methane leak from damage yet on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines is likely to be the largest eruption of the potent greenhouse gas on record, raising new fears of the impact on the climate emergency.

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The Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany was pumping massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere along the Baltic Sea on Thursday – five times more than survived in the Aliso Canyon disaster – the largest known terrestrial release of methane in US history.

Kristofer Botzouw, head of Denmark’s Energy Agency, said the leak could be as high as a third of Denmark’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions. Danish emissions in 2020 were about 45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).


Russia and US and European allies have accused each other of deliberately sabotaging gas pipelines as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine intensifies.

“Whoever gave this order should be tried and jailed for war crimes,” said Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson.

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The worst-case scenario is estimated to have leaked 778 million cubic meters of gas, according to the Danish government.

Jackson and David Hastings, a retired chemical oceanographer in Gainesville, Florida, each calculated that this would be the equivalent of about half a million tons of methane. The Aliso Canyon disaster released 90–100,000 tonnes.

Methane is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for a significant portion of the climate disruption that people are already experiencing. This is because it is 82.5 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in absorbing the Sun’s heat and heating the Earth.


Andrew Baxter, a chemical engineer working at the environmental group EDP, had a more conservative estimate than the Danish government, but it was still twice as high as the Aliso Canyon disaster.

He said only one pipeline could release emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of two million cars.

“That’s one thing that’s in line with these estimates,” Baxter said. “It’s devastating for the climate.”

Pipelines recently burst in several locations in Denmark and Sweden’s exclusive economic zones, while neither was in operation during the energy standoff between Russia and Europe.

According to Paul Balcombe, a member of the Faculty of Engineering in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, the methane bubbling at the surface of the ocean was a sign of “a strong upward flow”.

The effects of the leaks are still coming to mind, Balcombe said, but are likely to be significant. “It would have a really huge environmental and climate impact – even if it released a fraction of it.”

Denmark has said that more than half of the gas in Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea had leaked into the atmosphere after being damaged by suspected sabotage.

“A clear majority of the gas has already exited the pipes,” Botzouw said. “We expect the rest to survive until Sunday.”

The Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted bodies of water on Earth due to industrial chemicals and urban litter.

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