Two Russian gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea have unexplained leaks that are pouring greenhouse gas emissions, sparking concerns that the disruption may have a catastrophic effect on the climate, but it is not yet clear how much.
Although the size of the Nord Stream leaks is still unknown, scientists have made educated guesses that range between 100,000 and 350,000 tonnes of methane based on how much gas is thought to be in one of the pipelines.
Given the unknowns surrounding variables like the temperature of the gas in the pipeline, the rate at which it is leaking, and the amount of gas that would be absorbed by microbes in the water before reaching the surface, emissions experts said that it was not yet possible to estimate the size of the leak.
Although neither pipeline was in service, they both held natural gas, which is primarily made up of methane, powerful greenhouse gas and the second-leading contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide.
However, because methane made up the majority of both Nord Stream pipes, the potential for a massive and highly damaging emission event is very worrisome.
A growing network of specialized satellites can detect methane leaks from onshore gas leaks, but it is difficult to analyze offshore leaks using satellites because of the different ways that light reflects on water, according to Christian Lelong, director for climate solutions at satellite data company Kayrros. Analysts suggested that using aircraft or drones could be an alternative.
The leaks might result in "a climate and ecological disaster," according to Stefano Grassi, head of the European Union energy commissioner's cabinet, who made the statement on Tuesday. In order to investigate what occurred, identify the quickest solution to stop leaks, and prevent more harm, Grassi stated, "We are in communication with [EU member states]."
Authorities claim that gas pipeline gas leaks offer a minimal impact on the local plant and animal life, unlike oil spills, which can rapidly harm and ultimately kill species. According to Denmark's Energy Agency, no one has yet inspected the pipeline, thus it is too early to determine who will look into the Nord Stream 2 leak. It was noted that the leaks will probably last for several days, if not a week.
Although the German environment ministry claimed that the leaks would not significantly endanger marine life, Greenpeace expressed alarm on Tuesday that fish would become engulfed in gas plumes, which might prevent them from breathing.