PIPELINEFinland: Pipeline Leak Likely Caused by 'External Activity'

Published 11 October 2023

Damage to an underwater gas pipeline and telecommunications cable connecting Finland and Estonia may have been a deliberate act, according to Finnish authorities.

After Finland’s coast guard said on Tuesday that it had discovered “clear damage” on the Balticconnector natural gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia which was shut down due to a leak on Sunday, the country’s government has said it may have been a deliberate act.

It is likely that damage to both the gas pipeline and the communication cable is the result of external activity,” President Sauli Niinisto said on Tuesday. “The cause of the damage is not yet clear, the investigation continues in cooperation between Finland and Estonia.”

Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation also said that the “size of the gas pipeline damage is such that indicates deliberate action.”

Finnish and Estonian gas system operators said they noted “an unusual drop in pressure” in the pipeline on Sunday morning, after which they shut down the gas flow.

The damage to the underwater infrastructure has been taken seriously and the causes have been under investigation since Sunday,” President Niinisto said. “The state authorities have been kept closely informed of the situation.”

NATO ‘Ready to Support Allies’
The Balticconnect pipeline, which runs for 77 kilometers (48 miles) along the seabed in the Gulf of Finland, opened in December 2019 to help integrate gas markets in the region, giving Finland and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania more flexibility of supply.

All four countries, including Finland since April 2023, are NATO members and, as such, Niinisto said he had been in touch with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said on social network X, formerly Twitter, that NATO was ready to assist in the investigation.

NATO is sharing information and stands ready to support allies concerned,” Stoltenberg posted.

Finland’s Energy Supply and Connectivity ‘Stable’
Natural gas accounts for around 5% of Finland’s energy consumption, mainly used in industry and combined heat and power production.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said the damage to the pipeline was “worrying,” but that Finland’s energy supply remained stable and that the damage to the telecommunications cable did not affect Finland’s overall connectivity.

Finnish telecommunications operator Elisa also confirmed that the damaged cable was primarily used for backup purposes and that the company’s services had not been disrupted.

It is too early to draw conclusions on who or what caused the damage,” Orpo told a press conference.

Finland’s gas network operator, state-owned Gasgrid, said that the leak could take months or more to repair, but that the Finnish gas system was stable, with supply secured through a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the southern port of Inkoo.

The fall in pipeline pressure was quite fast, which would indicate it’s not a minor breach. But the cause of it remains unclear,” an anonymous Baltic energy official with knowledge of the situation told the Reuters news agency.

Another source told Reuters: “[It’s] not a big deal for Estonia and Latvia because a lot of their gas is stored in Latvian storage, but Finns will not be able to get their gas from Latvian storage for some time and will fully rely on Inkoo.”

Memories of Nord Stream Sabotage
On Monday, a spokesperson for the Estonian gas operator Elering had said that no potential causes could be ruled out, including sabotage.

In 2022, the larger Nord Stream gas pipelines which cross the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany were damaged by explosions that authorities have said were deliberate acts of sabotage.

Because the leaks occurred in their exclusive economic zones, Denmark and Sweden opened probes into the attack, as did Germany. But all three countries have kept a tight lid on their investigations.

This article is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).