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Nord Stream gas leaks sees methane spew into the atmosphere


Climate scientists described the shocking images of gas spewing to the surface of the Baltic Sea as a “reckless release” of greenhouse gas emissions that, if deliberate, “amounts to an environmental crime.”

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Unexplained gas leaks along two underwater pipelines connecting Russia to Germany have sent huge volumes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Climate scientists described the shocking images of gas spewing to the surface of the Baltic Sea this week as a “reckless release” of greenhouse gas emissions that, if deliberate, “amounts to an environmental crime.”

Seismologists on Monday reported explosions in the vicinity of the unusual Nord Stream gas leaks, which are situated in international waters but inside Denmark’s and Sweden’s exclusive economic zones.

Denmark’s armed forces said video footage showed the largest gas leak created a surface disturbance of roughly 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) in diameter, while the smallest leak caused a circle of approximately 200 meters.

Climate scientists acknowledge that it is hard to accurately quantify the exact size of the emissions and say the leaks are a “wee bubble in the ocean” compared to the massive amounts of methane emitted around the world every day.

Nonetheless, environmental campaigners argue that the incident shows the risk of sabotage or an accident makes fossil infrastructure a “ticking time bomb.”

How bad is it?

For context, the International Energy Agency estimates that annual global methane emissions are around 570 million tons.

This means the estimated emissions from the Nord Stream gas leaks are just a fraction of the global total each year, even while campaigners argue the incident serves as another reminder of the risks associated with fossil fuel infrastructure.

Paul Balcombe, honorary lecturer in chemical engineering at Imperial College London, said that even if only one of the two leaking Nord Stream pipes were to release all its contents, it would likely be twice as much methane as the 2015 Aliso Canyon leak in California, the largest known release of methane in U.S. history.

Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon and doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere before it breaks down. This makes it a critical target for combatting climate change quickly while simultaneously minimizing other greenhouse gas emissions.

The massive roiling water due to the leak as we have seen in imagery is symbolic of the enormous amount of fossil fuel that the world is combusting.

Jeffrey Kargel

Senior scientist at Planetary Research Institute

The cause of the Nord Stream gas leaks is not yet known. Many in Europe suspect sabotage, particularly as the incident comes amid a bitter energy standoff between Brussels and Moscow. Russia has dismissed claims that it was behind the suspected attack as “stupid.”

Denmark’s Energy Agency said Wednesday that emissions from the gas leaks correspond to approximately one-third of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on the Danish government’s initial estimates, the worst-case scenario would see 778 million standard cubic meters of gas or 14.6 million metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions. Comparatively, Danish emissions in 2020 were roughly 45 million tons of carbon equivalent.

Grant Allen, professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Manchester, said it has been estimated that there may be up to 177 million cubic meters of gas still residual in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline alone.

Allen said this amount is equivalent to the gas used by 124,000 U.K. homes in a year. “This is not a small amount of gas, and represents a reckless emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” he added.

Jeffrey Kargel, senior scientist at Planetary Research Institute in Tucson, Arizona, described the gas leaks at the Nord Stream pipelines as a “real travesty” and “an environmental crime if it was deliberate.”

“The massive roiling water due to the leak as we have seen in imagery is symbolic of the enormous amount of fossil fuel that the world is combusting,” Kargel said.

“The global climate is changing drastically, with huge impacts on extreme climate mounting every year, decade after decade. It is such an extreme climate change that just about every adult age person on Earth knows it from first-hand experience,” he added. “We can literally feel it on our skin.”

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Nord Stream gas leaks sees methane spew into the atmosphere

2022-09-30 06:26:45

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