Russian pipeline leaks spew methane into the atmosphere, causing climate fears

Huge amounts of methane are spewing into the air from Russian pipeline leaks, which makes people worry about the climate.

Gas leaks along two underwater pipelines that connect Russia and Germany have released a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Climate scientists called the shocking images of gas spewing onto the surface of the Baltic Sea this week a “reckless release” of greenhouse gases that, if done on purpose, “amounts to an environmental crime.”

On Monday, seismologists reported explosions near the strange Nord Stream gas leaks, which are in international waters but inside the exclusive economic zones of Denmark and Sweden.

The Danish military said that video footage showed that the biggest gas leak caused a circle on the surface that was about 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) wide, while the smallest leak caused a circle that was about 200 metres wide.

Climate scientists agree that it is hard to know exactly how much methane is being released, and they say that the leaks are just “a little bubble in the ocean” compared to the huge amounts of methane that are released every day around the world.

Still, environmentalists say that the incident shows that fossil fuel infrastructure is a “ticking time bomb” because of the chance of sabotage or an accident.

What’s wrong?

Researchers at the German Environment Agency (UBA) say that the leaks are like putting about 7.5 million metric tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.

The agency said that the leaks are likely to let out a total of 300,000 tonnes of methane into the air. Researchers at UBA said that methane is much worse for the climate than carbon. They pointed out that one tonne of methane warms the atmosphere as much as 25 tonnes of carbon over a 100-year period.

The International Energy Agency says that about 570 million tonnes of methane are released into the atmosphere every year.

This means that the estimated emissions from the Nord Stream gas leaks are only a small part of the world’s total emissions each year, even though activists say the leak is a reminder of the risks of building infrastructure for fossil fuels.

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

Carbon is 84 times more powerful than methane, but it doesn’t stay in the air as long before it breaks down. This makes it an important goal for fighting climate change quickly and reducing other greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.

No one knows why gas is leaking from the Nord Stream pipeline. Many people in Europe think it was an act of sabotage, especially since it happened at the same time that Brussels and Moscow were in a very heated energy dispute. Claims that Russia was behind the attack have been called “stupid” by Russia.

The Energy Agency of Denmark said on Wednesday that the gas leaks are responsible for about one-third of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on the initial estimates of the Danish government, the worst-case scenario would involve releasing 778 million standard cubic metres of gas or 14.6 million metric tonnes of carbon equivalent. In 2020, Denmark’s emissions were about 45 million tonnes of carbon equivalent, which is a lot less than China’s.

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

Allen said that this amount is the same as how much gas 124,000 homes in the UK use in a year. “This is not a small amount of gas, and it shows how carelessly greenhouse gases are being put into the air,” he said.

Jeffrey Kargel, a senior scientist at the Planetary Research Institute in Tucson, Arizona, said that the gas leaks at the Nord Stream pipelines were “a real travesty” and “an environmental crime if it was done on purpose.”

“The huge amount of churning water caused by the leak, as seen in the pictures, is a metaphor for how much fossil fuel the world burns,” Kargel said.

“The world’s climate is changing in a big way, with huge effects on extreme weather getting worse every year. “It is such a big change in the weather that almost everyone who is an adult on Earth has seen it for themselves,” he said. “We can feel it right through our skin.”

Moving Markets

Europe must go ‘full tilt’ for renewable energy.

At the time of the leaks, neither pipeline was pumping gas, but both lines were still under pressure. This month, Nord Stream 1 stopped pumping gas to Europe “indefinitely” because the operator in Moscow said that international sanctions against Russia kept it from doing important maintenance work.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, on the other hand, was never officially opened because Germany refused to give it a commercial licence because Russia invaded Ukraine without any reason.

Dave Reay, executive director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, said, “The most direct effect of these gas leaks on the climate is that they add more of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, which is the main component of natural gas, to the atmosphere.”

“That said, this is a small bubble in the ocean compared to the huge amounts of so-called “fugitive methane” that are released every day around the world by things like fracking, coal mining, and oil extraction,” he said.

“Risks of sabotage or accident make fossil fuel infrastructure a ticking time bomb, but even on a good day, oil and gas pipes and storage always leak methane,” Silvia Pastorelli, EU climate and energy campaigner at environmental group Greenpeace, told CNBC in an email.

“Behind all these numbers of cubic metres and megatonnes are real dangers for real people. This powerful greenhouse gas is speeding up the climate crisis, which means that heatwaves like the one Europe had this summer will be worse and storms like the one hitting Florida right now will be more destructive. “

“Gas pipelines from Norway or Algeria won’t help us get out of this mess. Instead, Europe needs to go all out for renewable energy and real energy savings that protect people who are most at risk. “

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