Sources familiar with the matter have informed Reuters that Russia intends to seal and mothball its ruptured undersea Nord Stream gas pipelines, with no immediate plans for repair or reactivation.
Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom constructed Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, each consisting of two pipes, to supply Germany with 110 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas annually under the Baltic Sea. However, in September, unexplained blasts caused three of the pipes to rupture, with one Nord Stream 2 pipe remaining intact.
While Gazprom has stated that repairing the ruptured lines is technically feasible, Moscow is said to see little likelihood of relations with the West improving enough in the foreseeable future to necessitate the pipelines’ use. Furthermore, Nord Stream 1 was already at a standstill due to escalating tensions between Moscow and the West over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while its twin, criticized by Washington and Kyiv for exacerbating Germany’s reliance on Russia, never went online.
Over the past year, Europe has significantly reduced its energy imports from Russia, with state-controlled Gazprom’s exports outside the former Soviet Union nearly halving in 2022, reaching a post-Soviet low of 101 bcm.
According to one Russian source, the project is considered “buried,” while two others indicated that the ruptured pipelines would be conserved for potential future reactivation, although there is no plan for repair.
An additional source familiar with the situation confirmed that conservation is being considered, which would involve sealing the ruptured ends and coating the pipes to prevent further corrosion from seawater.
If Europe’s seaborne liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States becomes more expensive, one of the Russian sources stated that Europe may be willing to purchase more from Russia again.
While Moscow’s Energy Ministry referred questions to the pipeline operators, there has been no response from either the operators or Gazprom.
Engie, Gasunie, and Wintershall DEA – stakeholders in Nord Stream AG, the operator of Nord Stream 1 – declined to comment. E.ON, which also owns a stake in Nord Stream AG, stated that no decision has been made, either for or against restoring the line, to their knowledge as a minority shareholder.
WHO BLEW UP THE PIPELINES?
Moscow has accused the West of being responsible for the recent explosions, although no evidence has been provided to support this claim. Seymour Hersh, a US investigative journalist, had suggested in a blog post that Washington was to blame, but the White House dismissed his allegations as “complete fiction”. Investigations by Denmark, Germany and Sweden are still ongoing.
Nord Stream 1 has been idle since August due to maintenance work, and despite attempts to restart it, disagreements between Russia and the West regarding the servicing of a pumping turbine and Western sanctions have prevented its operation. Meanwhile, Nord Stream 2, a similar-sized pipeline, was completed in September 2021 amidst rising tensions with Russia. However, Germany’s regulators refused to certify it, and Berlin ultimately froze the project just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed using the undamaged portion of Nord Stream 2 to pump gas, but Germany, seeking to end its reliance on Russia, has rejected the idea. Poland has also stopped buying Russian gas. Russia is currently exporting only about 40 million cubic metres per day of pipeline gas to Europe, through Sudzha, located on the border between Ukraine and Slovakia.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow no longer intends to rely on the West as an energy partner and hopes to establish a gas hub in Turkey to replace the Baltic route.
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