Understanding what happened to the Nord Stream pipelines will not be easy

Understanding what happened to the Nord Stream pipelines will not be easy

Nord Stream pipelines are colossal infrastructures. These pipelines - which from Russia extend over 1,200 kilometers across the Baltic Sea to Germany - can carry up to 110 billion cubic meters of gas, enough to power 26 million homes. Nord Stream 1 alone is made up of 202,000 huge pipes. Each section is 12 meters long and contains pipes made of about 4 centimeters of steel, covered on their faces by 11 centimeters of concrete. In short, the structure is built so as not to break.

For this reason, when the pressure in one of the Nord Stream 2 ducts collapsed on 26 September, the alarm went off. The Danish authorities ordered the ships to stay clear of the pipelines as methane began to spill over into the sea. A few hours later, two more leaks were detected, one in Nord Stream 2 and a second in Nord Stream 1. Authorities now suspect that the leaks were caused intentionally: "We are not talking about an accident," said the prime minister. Danish Mette Frederiksen.

According to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the spills could be the consequence of "sabotage". Any "deliberate disruption" of the infrastructure "will lead to the most vigorous reaction possible," added von der Leyen. NATO officials are on the same line, while the United States has promised to help Europe find out what happened. However, the incidents raised fears about possible attacks on critical infrastructure and the security measures in place to defend the systems that supply the world's gas. Pipeline losses add to the cut in Russian supplies to Europe, with large regions of the continent facing an energy crisis in the winter.

Although officials have indicated that the losses may have been caused intentionally, very little evidence of any attacks has so far emerged. Military aircraft that flew over the affected area revealed the presence of gas patches on the surface more than a kilometer wide, while the Swedish seismic experts are sure that explosions occurred after recording tremors equal to a magnitude 2 earthquake. , 3.

Suspect number one

The suspects immediately focused on Russia, which owns part of the pipelines. Ukraine has declared it to be a "terrorist attack"; in Germany Der Spiegel reported that the CIA had already warned the German authorities of the possibility of attacks on pipelines several weeks ago (some American journalists close to the right and a Polish parliamentarian accused the United States of being involved in the incident, citing the statements Joe Biden who said in February that he would "end" Nord Stream 2 in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine).

"It's the classic Russian approach to hybrid warfare," he argues Hans Tino Hansen, managing director of Risk Intelligence, a security company based in Denmark that deals with maritime affairs. According to Hansen, the fact that Russia owns part of Nord Stream's infrastructure raises doubts about the reasons that would have led the country to hit the pipelines (for its part, the Kremlin has defined as "stupid" the hypothesis that the Russia is behind the incident). "They are demonstrating that they can attack energy infrastructures located on the seabed. The message is that they are capable of targeting and destroying any energy infrastructure in Europe," continues Hansen.

Now investigators across Europe , including intelligence agencies, will try to figure out exactly who and what caused the explosions. Investigations are likely to consist of several phases, such as the examination of the data available in the affected area, including seismic or other sensors, the verification of any interception of communications relating to the accident and the examination of the pipelines to verify the possible presence of signs of intentional damage.

The two pipelines are currently not operational. Nord Stream 1 activity was paused for repairs in August, while Nord Stream 2 was never officially inaugurated after Germany withdrew its support for the project prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine (both infrastructures still contain gas inside them). The three losses occurred close to each other, near the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. The island is surrounded by Denmark to the west, Sweden to the north and Germany and Poland to the south. The leaks are found in international waters, but also in the exclusive economic zones of Denmark and Sweden. "[The loss, ed.] Is quite superficial, averaging about 50 meters in this region," reports Julian Pawlak, research associate at Helmut Schmidt University and the German Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies. >

The hypotheses under consideration

According to military sources it is conceivable that the attacks, if intentional, were carried out with the aid of underwater drones, mines dropped or placed by boats, divers or even that have started from inside the pipes. "We still don't know what the origin of the explosions is or where they come from: whether from the outside or from the inside of the ducts," says Pawlak. By a process known as pigging, pipeline cleaning and inspection machines can be sent directly into the pipelines from Russia to Germany. It cannot be ruled out that the process was reused to carry out an attack.

As early as 2007, before the construction of Nord Stream 1, an analysis of the project by the Swedish Defense Research Agency ( Foi) had warned of possible terrorist explosions. "Despite the concrete lining, a gas pipeline is quite vulnerable. A single diver would be enough to set off an explosive device - the IOF report said -. However, the impact of such an attack would presumably be limited and it is very unlikely that a a minor incident of this type causes a large explosion ".

" Russia is capable of waging submarine warfare with divers, but also with mini-submarines and drones, "Hansen points out. However, it is not certain that it will be easy to confirm any responsibilities. The relatively limited depth of the area around the gas pipelines makes it unlikely that large submarines will operate in the area, as they would be easily spotted.

According to Pawlak, any vessel in the area would potentially be in able to detect the presence of the means that may have caused the damage. Even submarine sensors could detect a moving object nearby, although it is not clear where these systems are: "It is not yet certain that the whole Baltic Sea is littered with sensors and that NATO is aware of every movement - continues Pawlak -. On the surface, but especially on the seabed, it is not yet possible to know, at all times and in all places, what is happening and what is happening ".

Protecting infrastructures

At every way, the accidents at the Nord Stream gas pipelines have brought to the fore the issue of the defense of critical infrastructures. In recent years, cyberattacks have blocked the US Colonial Pipeline. And before the war in Ukraine began, Russian military hackers used the country to test cyberwarfare tactics, knocking out Ukrainian power grids.

Undersea infrastructure can be particularly vulnerable to damage, both due to natural causes, such as earthquakes, and due to physical attacks. After the explosions of September 26, huge quantities of gas have poured into the sea, which could have an unprecedented environmental impact. "As we, and many others, have been saying for many years, we have to take care of the safety of energy infrastructures and every underwater system," explains Hansen, including the myriad of internet cables that stretch thousands of kilometers around the world and that allow to billions of people to stay online.

In January, the chief of the UK armed forces highlighted how Russian submarines pose a threat to submarine cables: "Russia has developed the ability to jeopardize submarine cables and potentially exploiting them, "said Admiral Tony Radakin.

Hansen argues that there are two starting points for protecting underwater infrastructure: first, to create systems capable of automatically detecting equipment failures and problems, and secondly, make sure there are tools, such as underwater drones, capable of reaching the sites to inspect them in case of damage. Steps in this direction may already be underway: the Norwegian prime minister recently stated that the country will increase military defenses to energy infrastructure.

This article originally appeared on sportsgaming.win UK.

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