HomeBlogFinanceCarbon counter: fog of war is clouding environmental damage

Carbon counter: fog of war is clouding environmental damage

The bubble gusher that appeared in the Baltic Sea after the rupture of the Nord Stream pipelines has subsided. Conspiracy theories over the cause of the damage are still simmering.

This week, Swedish police investigating the leaks in Nord Stream 1 and 2 found evidence of detonations. That strengthened the already strong belief that the damage resulted from deliberate acts of sabotage. Russia has denied responsibility, pushing the theory that the US and its allies caused the damage. Blaming the US for a cloak-and-dagger plot is a familiar Kremlin trope.

Regardless of who carried out the sabotage that punctured three of the four pipelines, the impact on the environment is significant.

Initial estimates from Gazprom put the total amount of gas released at 800mn cubic metres. That is only about 1 per cent of the UK’s annual natural gas consumption. But unburnt methane has a global warming effect 30 times higher than carbon dioxide.

The gas released by the leaks could be as much as 13mn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to Lex’s calculations. That is roughly the same as the annual output of greenhouse gases as Moldova. It amounts to about 3 per cent of annual UK emissions.

Gas to the three damaged pipes — both of Nord Stream 1’s parallel pipes and one of the Nord Stream 2 pair — has now been cut off. The pressure in the remaining intact pipe of Nord Stream 2 has been reduced. There was some gas inside the Nord Stream 2 pipes even though they were not in use. The pipeline, which was under construction for the past decade, was abruptly scrapped just two days before Russian president Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The damage will serve to intensify tensions between Russia and the west. But the severity of the attack was reduced by the limited flow of gas. Had all four pipes been operating at full capacity, the damage could have been three times worse.

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