Nord Stream, a twin undersea pipeline that transports natural gas from western Russia for distribution into the European gas grid, accounts for the bulk of the continent’s energy needs. The western sanctions on Russia following the conflict in Ukraine have impacted the gas flow into Germany, and that’s bad news for Europe, which relies heavily on the energy that flows through the Nord Stream pipelines from Russia.
The pipelines are back in the news after four leaks were detected, although gas no longer flows through them.
Here’s a look at the Nord Stream project and its importance to Europe.
Why is Nord Stream important for Europe?
Around 40 per cent of Europe’s gas supplies flow through Nord Stream 1 from Russia to Germany. It helps keep the energy costs low in Germany and is critical for the rest of Europe as well.
Nord Stream 1 transports 55 billion cubic metres of gas a year. Most of it goes directly to Germany, while the rest travels west and southwards through onshore links to other countries and into storage caverns.
The Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines have a joint annual capacity of 110 billion cubic metres — enough gas for businesses and households in the EU for at least 50 years.
Why is Europe so reliant on gas?
Europe is reliant on gas after it started replacing decommissioned coal and nuclear plants. It will take a while before renewable sources such as wind and solar power can take care of the energy requirements.
Natural gas accounts for around 27 per cent of Germany’s energy mix. It is Russia’s biggest European gas consumer, and most of the gas required comes through the Nord Stream pipeline. Its share of Russian gas supplies was 55 per cent in 2021 and is currently 35 per cent, according to Deutsche Welle.
Gas is used for various processes, including forging steel to make cars, making glass bottles and pasteurising milk and cheese. High energy prices are already threatening to cause a recession in Europe through record inflation, with consumers having less to spend as costs rise for food, fuel and utilities.
What are Europe’s alternative sources of energy?
The European Union countries have been phasing out fossil fuels to use renewable forms of energy. The energy crisis resulting from the Nord Stream gas disruption has prompted many to return to coal. Germany, which had planned to abandon coal by 2030, is reopening their old coal plants for electricity production after parliament passed emergency legislation on July 8.
European governments are now forced to turn to more-expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG), which comes by ship from the US, Qatar, Algeria and other places. But, experts said LNG alone is enough to bridge the gap as the world’s LNG export facilities are running at full capacity, and there’s no more gas left.
Sweden’s Coast Guard became aware of two leaks in the pipelines in the country’s exclusive economic zone on Monday (September 16), at the same time they learned of two in Denmark, a spokesman said by phone. Officials put the information on their website, but were "surprised" that it wasn’t known broadly, with just one leak near Sweden talked about in the past days, the spokesman said. Local media in the Nordic country began reporting on the fourth leak late Wednesday.
It isn’t known where exactly the leaks are located on the pipes’ structures, according to the spokesman. The Coast Guard is monitoring the site, and has a remote-controlled underwater robot on location.
Gas has been bubbling up from the pipelines since earlier this week, with Denmark estimating that the links would empty by Sunday. Several governments have called the actions “deliberate” and “sabotage,” with Finland on Wednesday noting that only a state actor could be capable of acts on such a scale.
What are the origins of the Nord Stream?
Nord Stream, formerly known as the North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP), is an idea first floated in the mid-1990s and sealed on September 8, 2005, by Germany and Russia. The natural gas pipeline running directly from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea bypassed all the transit countries. It helped Russia avoid the transport fees charged by Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and the Baltic nations for the pipelines crossing their territory.
Nord Stream is among the longest offshore pipelines in the world, transporting 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas each year.
What are the Nord Stream pipelines?
The $20 billion Nord Stream twin pipeline system runs through the Baltic Sea from Vyborg, Russia, to Lubmin near Greifswald, Germany. The pipelines, built and operated by Nord Stream AG, cross the Exclusive Economic Zones of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany, and the territorial waters of Russia, Denmark, and Germany.
The two 1,224-kilometre offshore pipelines are the most direct connection between the vast gas reserves in Russia and energy markets in the European Union. The Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines have a joint annual capacity of 110 billion cubic metres — more than half of Russia’s normal gas export volumes, according to Reuters. That’s enough gas for businesses and households in the EU for at least 50 years.
In Germany, the gas is received by the connecting pipelines OPAL (Baltic Sea Pipeline Link) and NEL (North European Gas Pipeline) and transported into the European grid.
What is Nord Stream 1?
Nord Stream 1 runs from Vyborg in northwest Russia to Lubmin in northeastern Germany through the Baltic Sea. Built at cost of $9.7 billion (the offshore segment), the primary route for gas supplies from Russia to Germany transports 55 billion cubic metres annually. It is majority owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, according to Reuters.
What is Nord Stream 2?
The $11-billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, completed in September 2021, was expected to double the flow of Russian gas to Germany to 110 billion cubic metres. It was suspended in February due to the war in Ukraine.
Nord Stream 2 follows the same path as Nord Stream 1 and can transport 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Russia to Europe.
Half of Nord Stream 2 is owned by the Russian state company Gazprom, and the rest is divided between the Anglo-Dutch company Shell, Austria’s OMV, France’s Engie, and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall.
Gazprom said Nord Stream 2 would meet Europe’s growing need for affordable natural gas and complement existing pipelines through Belarus and Ukraine.
When were the pipelines built?
The Nord Stream Pipeline system is a major feat of engineering, as it involves complex logistics with suppliers and contractors from all over the world. The construction of Line 1 started in April 2010 and was completed in June 2011. Gas began to flow through the pipeline in November 2011.
The construction of Line 2, which runs parallel to Line 1, began in May 2011 and was completed in April 2012. Transportation of gas through the second line started in October 2012.
How were the pipelines constructed?
The pipelines were laid in three sections, and the walls in each section have different thicknesses depending on the direction of the gas flow. Since pressure reduces as gas makes its way through the pipelines, the walls are thickest at the start of the pipelines at Portovaya Bay, Russia, and thinnest at the landing point at Greifswald, Germany, according to Nord Stream AG.
Each pipeline is made up of about 100,000 pipes. Five harbours supplied concrete-coated pipes and barges owned and operated by Nord Stream’s contractor, Saipem, and its subcontractor, Allseas, were used to lay the lines.
In 2010, three vessels were used to complete the pipelines, working at different parts of the route. Through mid-2011, two boats were used. From mid-2011 through April 2012, Saipem’s Castoro Sei worked on Line 2, according to the Nord Stream AG website.
Construction was scheduled to minimise environmental impacts, like avoiding the critical seal breeding and fish spawning seasons.
What’s the source of gas for the pipeline?
The oil and gas condensate deposit in Bovanenkovo in western Siberia, Russia, is the main gas source for the Nord Stream Pipeline. Developed by Gazprom Dobycha Nadym LLC, a subsidiary of PJSC Gazprom, the gas field covers an area of about 1,000 sq km with estimated reserves of 4.9 trillion cubic metres.
Gas from Bovanenkovo is connected to the Nord Stream pipelines through a 917km onshore pipeline in Russia, built by Gazprom.
How is Nord Stream linked to Europe’s energy grid?
Two onshore connections from Greifswald to the south and west of Germany, with a total length of more than 900km, built by W&G and E.ON SE, connect the pipeline with the European gas transmission system.
Who operates the Nord Stream pipelines?
The pipelines were built and operated by Nord Stream AG. It handles the day-to-day technical operation and commercial handling of gas transport, the maintenance of technical systems, continued liaison with authorities in the countries through whose waters Nord Stream runs, as well as adhering to environmental management obligations and relevant technical standards of the permitting countries, according to the company website.
“Nord Stream AG does not own, buy or sell gas transported via its twin pipelines. The trade-in natural gas is solely between the shipper and its respective business partners in Europe,” the company said, adding that gas transported is monitored around the clock by Nord Stream experts.
From Zug, Switzerland, the operators of the pipelines oversee all safety processes and parameters associated with gas transport from the Control Centre. They are in constant contact with the gas supplier and the receivers to assess the flow of gas daily to ensure that the pipelines operate flawlessly.
Nord Stream also operates four pipeline facilities: landfalls in Russia and Germany, where the offshore pipeline ties into the onshore connecting pipelines; the Control Centre; and a fully independent Backup Control Centre.
What’s the immediate energy future of Europe?
There have been growing concerns about further disruptions to European gas supplies. European countries rely on Russian energy for their cold winters. If Nord Stream 1 does not resume gas supply to Europe, the continent will not have adequate fuel by the end of the year, experts said.
Without natural gas supplies, the German economy will suffer, and Europeans will be at risk of being unable to heat their homes in winter.