Nord Stream Methane Leak Could Be Biggest Ever Into Atmosphere

Nord Stream map

The Nord Stream pipelines include a pair of natural gas pipelines in Europe that run under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a halt on the construction of Nord Stream 2 as part of the crippling sanctions implemented on Russia. MillerZ/Shutterstock

Unlike an oil spill, gas will not have as polluting an effect on the marine environment, Allen says. “But in terms of greenhouse gases, it’s a reckless and unnecessary emission to the atmosphere.”

Germany’s environment agency says there were no containment mechanisms on the pipeline, so the entire contents were likely to escape.


The Danish Energy Agency said on Sept. 29 that the pipelines contained 778m cubic metres of natural gas in total — the equivalent of 14.6 million tons of CO2-equivalent or 32 percent of Danish annual CO2 emissions.

This is almost twice the volume initially estimated by scientists. This would significantly bump up estimates of methane leaked to the atmosphere, from 220,462 tons (200,000 metric tons) to more than 440,924 tons (400,000 metric tons). On Oct. 2, the agency said the pipeline was no longer leaking gas.

Jean-Francois Gauthier, vice president of measurements at the commercial methane-measuring satellite firm GHGSat, says evaluating the total gas volume emitted was “challenging.”

“There is little information on the size of the breach and whether it is still going on,” Gauthier says. “If it’s a significant enough breach, it would empty itself.

“It’s safe to say that we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of [metric] tons of methane. In terms of leaks, it’s certainly a very serious one. The catastrophic instantaneous nature of this one — I’ve certainly never seen anything like that before.”

In terms of the climate impact, 275,577 tons (250,000 metric tons) of methane was equivalent to the impact of 1.3 million cars driven on the road for a year, Gauthier says.

This article by The Guardian is published here as part of the global journalism collaboration Covering Climate Now.