Estonian Navy searching for Balticconnector gas leak location

Jüri Saska.
Jüri Saska. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Both on-board sonars and remotely operated submersibles will be used to detect possible leaks in the Balticconnector gas pipeline, which runs between Estonia and Finland. The Estonian Navy (Merevägi) will be the first to head to Paldiski to investigate the area of sea where the leak is believed to have occurred. However, it may take several days to determine the precise location and cause.

The undersea section of the Balticconnector between Estonia and Finland is 77 kilometers long. The construction of the pipeline cost nearly €300 million. According to a report by ETV show "Aktuaalne kaamera," the pressure in the pipe began to drop overnight on Sunday, causing system operators on both sides to shut off the gas flow.

"Due to the pressure drop in the Balticconnector, there was an intense period of around an hour or two where the gas leaked out. Then, the leakage was stopped and so, today, several hours after the leak began, no more gas bubbles were coming out. At night, during the storm, the leakage stopped but after that there has been no external leakage that can be visually detected," said Elering CEO Kalle Kilk.

Clarity on what caused the leak may arrive over the coming days, though repairing the pipe could take several months. However, Kilk said that the storm, which caused considerable damage across Estonia at the weekend, can be ruled out as the cause of the leak.

According to Kilk, wave damage should essentially by ruled out as being behind the leak, as the gas pipe is in an area of the sea where the swell is less likely to have an impact.

"It's dredged into the seabed and in this deeper part of the seabed. It's floating nicely on the bottom there, and the swell can't reach it," Kilk said.

For the time being, Kilk did not want to comment on whether deliberate damage to the pipeline could be completely ruled out.

The Estonian Navy (Merevägi) had already begun surveying the area in Paldiski using the technology at its disposal on Monday evening. According to Commodore Jüri Saska, commander of the Estonian Navy, if the pipe had suffered intentional damage, they would most likely already know about it, as both underwater and surface surveillance are features of the preventive activities the navy conducts.

"If somebody were to lay malicious hands on it, then our preventative activity is such that the would-be perpetrator would know that we're going to be there to see that being done. That's the way in which it's preventative. However, now if we talk about protection, then, in itself, any action in such cases would still be reactive, and not so proactive. We can't imagine [a situation in which] someone is sitting on every pipe or cable a few meters apart, to make sure that no one damages it," Saska said.

Timo Tatar, undersecretary for energy and mineral resources at the Estonian Ministry of Climate, said that risk scenarios have been prepared for involving something potentially happening to the pipeline. Part of this includes the placement of an LNG floating terminal in Finland so that security of supply there would not suffer in the event of such issues.

"If we remember back to last year, there was also a very heated debate in Estonia about why this floating terminal ended up going to Finland. At that time, we also argued that if something should happen to the Balticconnector and this terminal was located on the Estonian side, then Finland would be left without a gas supply," Tatar said.

At the moment, the LNG floating terminal in Inkoo is ensuring Finland's gas supplies, while Estonia receives its gas from Latvia via the LNG terminal in Lithuania.

"If this ship were not in Inkoo today, if it were in Paldiski instead, and we had the same Balticconnector leakage, then Finland would indeed be in a much more difficult situation," said Tatar.

"Fortunately, the Inkoo terminal is there now and it's operational, it has LNG gas. The LNG gas is regasified and then piped to Finnish gas consumers. Thanks to that, the gas supply to Finland is guaranteed and thanks to the gas in the Latvian storage facility, the gas supply to Estonia is also guaranteed," Tatar said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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