Researchers fear damage to the climate and sea

The President of the US National Academy of Sciences, Marcia McNutt, speaks of an “unprecedented release of fossil methane in a very short time from a concentrated source”. In 2010, McNutt oversaw the US government’s efforts to assess the extent of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Methane causes rapid global warming. The fact that it’s disappearing from the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide is “probably cold consolation to people in Florida and elsewhere who are already being hit by more frequent and deadly tropical storms, charged by a sea superheated by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” explained McNutt.

As far as the estimate of the total damage is concerned, there is still a lack of clarity. But researchers warn that the huge pollutant plumes of the strong greenhouse gas will have significant negative consequences for the climate. They also fear direct damage to the flora and fauna in the Baltic Sea and human health, since natural gas typically contains benzene and other trace gases. In the meantime, no more gas is said to be leaking from Nord Stream 1 and 2. The climate researcher Rob Jackson speaks of “probably the largest gas leak of all time”.

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One of the reasons for the drastic consequences is the speed at which the gas is escaping from four known leaks in the pipelines. When methane is released naturally from vents in the seafloor, it has typically been in small amounts and most of the gas is absorbed by seawater. “But this is not a normal gas release situation,” Jackson explains. “We’re not talking about methane bubbling to the surface like fizzy water, but plumes of rushing gas.”

Jackson and other researchers estimate that between 50 percent and nearly 100 percent of all methane that emanates from the tubes will end up in the atmosphere. The Danish government designed a worst-case scenario, where all the gas reaches the air. The German authorities assumed a slightly lower amount on Thursday.

Part of a far larger, global problem

Meanwhile, it’s almost impossible to get close to the highly flammable plumes. For example, if the gas-air mix is ​​within a certain range, an airplane flying into the flag could easily catch fire.

The methane is not the only danger, as the atmosphere researcher Ira Leifer emphasizes. The total amount of trace elements such as the carcinogenic benzene that get into the environment is already considerable. It will harm fish, marine ecosystems as a whole, and people who eat fish, says Leifer.

University of Chicago geophysicist David Archer points out that the leaks in the Baltic Sea – which NATO blames on sabotage – are part of a much larger global problem with methane emissions. The gas is a major contributor to climate change as it is 82.5 times more powerful than CO2 in absorbing heat from the sun and global warming in the short term.

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According to climate researchers, methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are at least twice as high as those reported by companies – despite the claim of many companies that they have reduced their own emissions. This is the result of measurements from satellites from space, as climate scientist Thomas Lauvaux from the University of Reims explains.

Many of these so-called leaks are no coincidence: companies release the gas during routine maintenance. Lauvaux and other researchers observed more than 1,500 major methane leaks worldwide in the satellite images – and tens of thousands of possible smaller ones.

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