Two Russian gas pipes in the Baltic Sea have mysteriously started leaking, releasing a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. There is concern that the disruption will have far-reaching effects on the climate, the precise nature of which is still unknown.
Both pipelines were empty, yet they each had natural gas. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is responsible for much of this. According to the atmospheric chemist and senior scientist at the non-profit Clean Air Task Force David McCabe, “there are a number of uncertainties, but if these pipelines break, the damage to the climate will be severe and could even be unprecedented.”
Methane is around 30 times as effective as carbon dioxide at warming the world over a 100-year time frame, and more than 80 times as effective over 20 years. According to scientists, cutting methane emissions drastically over the next several years is a crucial tool in slowing global warming.
Why Is It Hard to Quantify the Climate Impact of The Nord Stream Leaks?
McCabe and other specialists in the field of emissions say it is currently impossible to determine the extent of the leak. This is because it is unclear how quickly the gas would escape the pipeline, how hot the gas would be, or how much of the gas would be absorbed by bacteria in the water before it reached the surface.
However, “the potential for a big and highly catastrophic emission event is particularly alarming,” as McCabe puts it, because both Nord Stream pipes contained primarily methane. Research Associate at Imperial College London’s Sustainable Gas Institute Jasmin Cooper says it will be difficult to calculate how much gas is reaching the atmosphere, especially given the lack of information on breaches from undersea pipelines.
They need to send out a team today to measure and monitor,” she says, referring to Gazprom, the state-owned Russian gas giant. Gazprom will likely have an estimate based on gas throughputs.
How Much Methane Could Be Leaking from The Nord Stream Gas Pipelines?
According to Jean-Francois Gauthier, vice president of measurements for the commercial methane-measuring satellite firm GHGSat, a “conservative estimate” based on available data suggests the leaks together were releasing more than 500 metric tons of methane per hour when first breached, with the pressure and flow rate decreasing over time.
For context, at its peak in 2016, the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak in the United States released only about 50 tons of methane per hour. According to Gauthier, “therefore this would be an order of magnitude more.” This week, a representative for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was supposed to carry gas but never got off the ground when Germany cancelled it in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said that the system was able to store 300 million cubic meters of gas.
Chemical engineer Paul Balcombe from London’s Queen Mary University estimates that releasing the entire amount to the atmosphere would result in methane emissions of roughly 200,000 tons. nonprofit in Germany German Environmental Aid provided a similar prediction of emissions from the pipeline.
What Impact Do Methane Leaks Have on Global Warming?
Over a century, that much methane would contribute roughly the same amount to global warming as 6 million tons of carbon dioxide, using conversion coefficients from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That’s about the same as the annual CO2 emissions of moderately large cities like Havana or Helsinki. A pipeline representative has declined to comment on how much gas was in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline system when it was shut down for repairs a few weeks ago, therefore it is unclear how much gas is leaking from the system.
EU Energy Commissioner’s Cabinet Head Stefano Grassi warned on Tuesday that the leaks might cause “a climate and ecological disaster.” Grassi tweeted that the EU member states were being contacted to “find the shortest means to stop leaks and minimize severe damage.”
More than 100 countries, including the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, and Mexico, promised last year to reduce their cumulative methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 in an effort to help avert devastating levels of climate change. EU countries were among those countries.
How Will the Nord Stream Gas Pipe Leaks Impact Marine Life?
Authorities have stated that gas pipeline leaks do not represent as great of a hazard to the surrounding plant and animal life as oil spills do. However, Greenpeace voiced fears on Tuesday that fish could become stuck in plumes of gas, which could prevent them from breathing, despite assurances from the German environment ministry that the leaks would not represent a substantial hazard to marine life.
Since no one has yet inspected the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the Danish Energy Agency has stated that it is premature to speculate on who will conduct the leak investigation.
It was also noted that the leaks are expected to last for several more days, possibly even a week.
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What Caused the Nord Stream Gas Leaks?
Recent reports from Brussels indicate signs of “sabotage” and “deliberate activity,” however the root cause of the gas leaks in the Nord Stream pipeline remains unknown. On Monday night, near the Danish island of Bornholm, the first leak in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was spotted. Two leaks, one from the Danish and one from the Swedish economic zone in the Baltic Sea, were discovered hours later on separate portions of Nord Stream 1.
Russian accusations of manipulating gas supply in retribution for Western sanctions have placed the infrastructure at the center of geopolitical tensions between the EU and Russia.
The seismic data suggest explosions occurred prior to the release of gas from two pipelines running beneath the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.
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