Methane gas emissions were swirling over Scandinavia this week, after explosions on two Russian gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea blew out a total of four holes in them. In addition to all the gas bubbling to the surface of the sea, clouds of methane gas spread north over Sweden and Norway, raising more climate and security concerns.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the Birkenes Observatory in Agder in southern Norway measured the emissions, from which climate researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) could confirm a “clear increase” in emissions equal to around 40,000 tons of methane that later rose to at least 80,000 tons. That’s more than four times the annual methane emissions from Norway’s entire oil and gas industry.
“We’ve never seen anything like this at any of our observatories,” said NILU senior scientist Cathrine Lund Myhre. The pipeline leaks, which resulted from what’s believed to be sabotage, were dubbed as “a serious pollution event” (external link to NILU’s own website).
So serious that Frederic Hauge of Norwegian environmental organization Bellona is calling on the government to requisition fishing vessels to help patrol Norway’s own vast system of gas pipelines. He’s worried that explosives may already be attached to Norwegian pipelines, and he also urged the use of remote-controlled robots to check the pipelines for any irregularities.
“We have a system that’s built for sunshine and a perfect world,” Hauge told newspaper Aftenposten. “We don’t live in that world. Everything has changed after these explosions.”
With nearly 9,000 kilometers of pipeline to examine, however, Hauge’s proposal seems all but unrealistic. He noted himself that bombs could already have been mounted on any sections of the pipelines. The chances of finding any are slim.
Hauge urged means of being able to plug sections of a pipeline that are leaking, to contain the leak and its emissions. The Nord Stream leaks aren’t expected to stop until Monday, a week after they began.
As the methane gas cloud was expected to move towards Svalbard and other sensitive Arctic areas this weekend, others worried about what a powerful climate gas methane is. The release of so much of it into the atmosphere deeply concerns other environmental organizations as well.
“This is a terribly tragic and huge release of emissions,” Sigrun Aasland, leader of environmental organization Zero, told Aftenposten. She also called it “a huge step backwards” in the rush to cut emissions and halt climate change.
“It’s very serious that we’ve made ourselves so vulnerable,” Aasland said. “It shows that we must secure fossil fuel infrastructure better, but also that we must work faster to make ourselves independent of it. The consequences of not doing that (developing and using new forms of alternative energy) are much worse.”