No Minister

Nordstream and its PMCS (Update)

with 30 comments

(Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services)

I don’t usually shift a post just because it’s updated but this seems worth doing because there have been some new and very interesting information updates.

First up is this diagram from a booklet called, CAPP Guidelines for the Prevention and Safe Handling of Hydrates, Canadian Assn. of Petroleum Producers (1994):

Then there’s this map of the pipelines and the points where the explosions occurred.

Plus this news from Reuters on September 6, Gazprom: off-line Nord Stream compressor station now deemed hazardous. That’s part of the system needed to keep the pressure up. If pressure drops on one side of a methane hydrate plug it’s going to move, possibly quite fast – until it hits a bend. The author also points out that a “pig” that is regularly run through such pipelines (pushed along by the gas) to clean it up would not have gone in this case for months while the pipelines sat idle.

Also, this piece of history involving Russian gas pipelines: the Ufa train disaster in the USSR, which I had never heard of and which apparently most people have not because it happened on June 4, 1989 – the same day that the Chinese Army hit the protesters at Tiananmen Square, so that’s where the world’s media focused its attention. Video here.


This post is a follow-up to Lucia’s post, Who Blew Up Nordstream?, and it’s based on a post at the Lawdog blog which argues that it simply may have been a combination of factors that attend all such undersea pipelines.

Since I’m very much a fan of the cockup-not-conspiracy mode of thinking in cases like this, I’m rather inclined to his explanations which he offers…. hesitantly:

crosses self
“Hail Mary, full of grace …”
Ok, the Nord pipeline incidents.
Sigh. I shouldn’t do this, but …

He goes on to describe his world of growing up in oilfields and continuing to have an interest in them as an author. He points out that explosive things tend to happen with all sorts of fossil fuels all the time, and that sabotage is not the thing that usually comes to mind:

“But, LawDog,” I hear you say, “It was multiple explosions!”

Yes, 17 hours apart. No military is going to arrange for two pipes in the same general area to be destroyed 17 hours apart. Not without some Spec Ops guy having a fit of apoplexy. One pipe goes up in a busy shipping lane, in a busy sea, and everyone takes notice. Then you wait 17 hours to do the second — with 17 hours for people to show up and catch you running dirty? Nah, not buying it.

Instead he points some nasty aspects of pipelines carrying gas and running under the sea:

“But what issues could happen in an undersea pipeline that could cause ruptures?”

Oh, my sweet summer child. Many, many, many. You might go far as to ask, “What issues won’t cause a rupture in an undersea pipeline?” — It’d be easier to list. However, in this case involving a natural gas pipeline under the pressure of 300 to 360 feet (8 atmospheres to 10 atm.) of water, I’d like you to turn your eyes towards a fun little quirk of nature called “methane hydrates”.

Under the right combination of pressure, temperature, and with the presence of water in natural gas/methane, solid hydrates will form in a pipeline and it’s a constant battle to stop them forming. That battle becomes tougher when the gas is not flowing,

Near as I can tell — and do correct me if I’m wrong — Russia charged Nord 2 with 300 million cubic metres of natural gas in July of 2021 … and it never moved. It just sat there. Under 300 to 360 feet of salt water. To quote an email from a petroleum engineer: “Holy Jesus, that [deleted] pipline is one hairy snowball from end-to-end!”

Nord 1 got shut down after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the gas hasn’t moved since. Just … hanging around. At the bottom of a sea. Yeah, it’s Russia. Those pipes are sodding well FULL of hydrates.

At which point you can get a methane hydrate so big that it blocks the entire pipe. Getting rid of such a thing is tricky and involves slow (very slow) depressurisation from both ends of the pipe. Or you can do it another way:

Funny enough, this actually happened in Siberia in 2000-ish. Pipeline got a nice-sized hydrate plug, and the muckity-mucks at Gazprom got annoyed at how long it was taking to deal with it. Lot’s of yelling, and the Ops guy sent Some Random Schmuck down to the site of the plug with a butane torch, and orders to warm up the pipe to speed up the melting at the plug/pipe interface. Simple, right? There’s no way a butane torch has enough oompf to overcome the thermal mass of a pipeline and burn a hole through the line.

It didn’t. The heat from the torch caused a small pocket of the hydrate to sublimate into gas, the overpressure involved ruptured the pipe and opened a jet of natural gas right into the flame of the torch. Random Schmuck did not, we think (not sure they found anything of him) survive this experience, nor did several miles of very expensive pipeline.

He theorises that the Russians wanted to keep the line ready to pump gas just in case Europe got desperate and/or the war in Ukraine ended or both:

So, Somebody In Charge started running checks — and came up with hydrate slurry in both pipelines. After the running in circles, hyperventilating, and shrieking of curse-words stopped, somebody started trying to remediate both lines. Of course they didn’t tell folks down stream — no Russian want to look weak, and besides, there’s been a nasty uptick in failed Russian oligarchs getting accidentally defenestrated — they just unilaterally tried to Fix Things.

As he says, he doesn’t discount the idea of sabotage – and that’s certainly the opinion of the Germans and the British – because “That area is too full of idiots”, but this is a very realistic possibility.

Of course when it comes to escalation of the war it may not matter. Gavrilo Princip and his mates were fucking idiots too, but there just happened to be bigger issues already at play.

Speaking of fucking idiots and alternative explanations….


Written by Tom Hunter

October 3, 2022 at 6:00 am

30 Responses

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  1. Great post, very interesting and utterly believable. Occam’s razor. None of the state motives made any real sense considering the risks. Trying to deplug both pipelines at the same time makes perfect sense.


    October 1, 2022 at 2:33 pm

  2. It may have been an accident due to incompetence, but with everything else going on in the background, who’s going to believe it?


    October 1, 2022 at 2:38 pm

  3. Very good assessment, thank you. I still won’t be apologizing to biden/USA who seemed very likely perps..


    October 1, 2022 at 2:50 pm

  4. Clutching at straws there old boy.

    Still it makes if it makes you feel better to sneer at “dumb Russians” as the economy as collapses due to the gross incompetence of the grotesque Prime Minister of Aotearoa continue living in your fools paradise, its cheaper than brandy I suppose.

    Here’s some food for thought


    October 1, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    • Not a question of being “dumb” anymore than in Soviet days – although I can see how that appeals to the idea that we’re being mean to The Rodina; very leftish cry-bully approach.

      It’s more about the system that Russians are in, where smart people end up doing dumb things. As the author says, And I’m here to tell you — Russian maintenance under the current oligarchy system isn’t any better than it was under the Soviet system. For different reasons sure but still…

      Tom Hunter

      October 1, 2022 at 3:21 pm

      • As the author says, And I’m here to tell you…

        And who exactly is the author, some random dude on the internet who “grew up in overseas oilfields”.

        How Methane Hydrate “plugs” have built up in a brand new pipeline is left unexplained.

        Let me explain something to you and see if you can get your brain around it

        The Gas delivered through pipelines to Germany is subject to contracts which specify in fine detail the composition and purity of it of it which means that it cannot contain the hypothesized water vapour beyond an absolutely miniscule level

        It is continuously checked on both the dispatch and delivery ends of the line that it meets the specifications as detailed in the contract

        And on delivery if its composition is out of spec with the contract it is not paid for…

        And guess what chum Russia has been delivering Gas to Europe for more than fifty years without any incident such as this and yet you want us to believe that it happened if four different pipes within minutes of each other


        October 1, 2022 at 4:01 pm

  5. Andre shot down by your own facts “The Gas delivered through pipelines to Germany is subject to contracts which specify in”

    No pipeline, NO CONTRACT

    Its that simple,

    Otherwise Russia will be subject to punitive clauses in the contract over non supply by the Germans.

    Who does Russia hate and fear the most, the Germans! If they can cripple the German economy as they themselves sink under the waves Mr Putin can die a happy man


    October 1, 2022 at 4:42 pm

    • If I were you Rossco, I’d lay off the gin, its rotting your brain cells


      October 1, 2022 at 4:54 pm

      • Hey! That used to be “Snowflake/Judge Holden’s” joke.

        Tom Hunter

        October 1, 2022 at 4:58 pm

      • And that Tom is your way of gracefully as possible withdrawing from this debate leaving my last comment unchallenged


        October 1, 2022 at 5:54 pm

    • You missed the meaning of “gracefully”.

      And having some contact with contracts in the gas/coal industry via the oblique angle of IT I decided to leave it to others to debate you.

      Tom Hunter

      October 1, 2022 at 7:26 pm

  6. Andrei
    You would find it worthwhile to do even just a little research before shooting your mouth off. Even their LNG has a lot of water in it.


    Hydrates are a major problem on gas fields and in pipelines. That is why they have to spend so much money drying the gas. When they packed the line, did they dry it? Did they maintain their dryers? Now on which end of the pipeline was the gas dried to meet what acceptance criteria? What was the contractual moisture content? Who did the QA?

    Chris Morris

    October 1, 2022 at 7:17 pm

    • The gas in the pipeline is specification gas. Hydrates are very unlikely, unless water was put in it intentionally.


      October 1, 2022 at 7:34 pm

  7. If the Russian gas going into the pipeline met the American pipeline gas standard for dryness:
    in the amount they packed into the line, there would be 3.3 tonnes of water.

    As regard other lines bursting, the pressure wave from sudden decompression of the gas, would effectively waterhammer nearby lines. The shock waves of that go a very long way. How close were the lines to each other. They are only as strong as their weakest weld

    Chris Morris

    October 1, 2022 at 7:32 pm

    • @Chris – it has to be liquid water. A hydrate forms when methane is caught between the lattice of water molecules that are hydrogen bonded. The water specifications on pipelines are set so that any water is in the vapour phase. I have 25+ years experience in gas processing.


      October 1, 2022 at 8:22 pm

      • If the gas goes in hot out of the compressor, the water vapour can condense out as the temperature drops in stagnant conditions. What was the dew point of the gas out of the compressor?

        Chris Morris

        October 1, 2022 at 8:32 pm

      • Probably about -50°C.


        October 2, 2022 at 7:39 am

  8. Andre good news , I’m temporarily sober having just consumed a bottle of good NZ Gin with my dinner. Had a little nap, and now I’m back into it. However, I have the top off the next bottle and may fall into a torpor shortly.

    Andre you do know that Gazprom tried to invoke “force majeure” on the contracts 3 months ago ??

    The Germans refused outright to consider it.

    It would then go to the courts and the Russians would lose. Not only would the Russians be fined but like any contract there would be billions of dollars in reparations due to damages to the German economy.

    Also Russia simply does not have the technology, the technical people or the skills to run the pipeline or the gas business.

    Germany then formed Gazprom Germania to run the pipelines.

    That is now defunct and Germany is looking at 10 billion cost to keep it solvent.

    You may also recall Russia stole all the planes it leases from Europe and the US and has refused to give them back or honour the contracts.

    Also Russia simply does not have the technology, the technical people or the skills to run sophisticated planes.

    Andre do you see a pattern here ??

    Autarky…….Thats a joke my Russian friend.


    October 1, 2022 at 10:01 pm

  9. Still flogging this dead horse.

    The entire world knows who was responsible for this act of gratuitous vandalism and why.

    And at the end of the day the economies of European nations are in free fall, Western Leaders are morons in way out of their depths while the nations outside the West are moving to insulate their economies from the dodgy financial practices of Western banking oligarchs and wall street and rightly hold the Godless West in the utter contempt it deserves.

    The days of West plundering the planet are coming to an end

    And that is obvious, much of the USA already looks worse than any third world shithole while much of its citizenry seeks solace in drugs , the quickest way out of the grim realities of daily life for many in the 21st century USA


    October 3, 2022 at 6:41 am

  10. And at the end of the day the economies of European nations are in free fall,

    Which should make them a lot more accommodating to Russia in ending this war.

    So why would the USA want that, accepting your arguments about them?

    Hell, the argument for some eco-terrorist group pulling this off is just as good. It’s not like you can’t get commercial divers who can work at those depths, and pipe-cutting shaped charges.

    So no, while there are holes in this theory they’re less than the others and it eliminates all the contradictory cui bono stuff.

    Tom Hunter

    October 3, 2022 at 6:47 am

    • Which should make them a lot more accommodating to Russia in ending this war.

      Well it would if their leaders were people of substance who had the best interests of their own people at heart.

      But they are not people of substance and do not have their own citizens, who they view as subjects, best interests at heart so here we are…


      October 3, 2022 at 7:05 am

  11. There’s one problem with your sketch. If the valve is closed there’s no flow in the pipe and no velocity therefore “water hammer” can’t occur, even if there’s is some condensation. Normal practice to prevent it is to open the valve very slowly to reduce pressure. That’s how it is done in steam systems. I have no practical experience with LNG but the principle is exactly the same. With an installation of this type one would expect that the valves are controlled with some sort of computerised system, which limits the rate of the flow. So unless an over-ride was used, I can’t imagine how it could have happened, especially with the Nordstream 2 which wasn’t even in use.


    October 3, 2022 at 7:20 am

    • Obviously not my area of expertise but if you read the comments I think that question is answered with two options:
      – methane hydrates can sublimate pretty fast and if it happens on one side of the plug it’s like a small rocket engine, pushing the plug along.
      – There’s good reason to believe that the pressure might not have been equal on both sides of such a plug, possibly because of Gazprom’s problems with that compressor. Same on the German side.

      It looks like it takes of a lot of effort to keep these pipelines working even when they’re not “working”. In some respects, like an aluminium pot line or a steel plant it’s actually easier to manage when everything is going full tit.

      Tom Hunter

      October 3, 2022 at 8:19 am

  12. Pigging is not required particularly often in pipelines that transport treated / specification gas. It is most certainly NOT done to move a hydrate slurry – if there are hydrates in pipelines, pigging it just pushes them into a plug, and causes blockages. If there is a hydrate slurry (wet lines upstream of processing facilities), then you depressure the pipeline from either end. Because it is not blocked, the hydrates dissociate as the pressure reduces, without escalation. Similarly, specification gas has sulphur limits. Having the pipeline “just sitting there for months” isn’t really a problem – what is the time going to do? Gas reaches ground / sea temperature within a few kilometres of the injection point through heat loss – it’s not like having it sit stagnant is going to exacerbate anything.

    Yes, shit does end up in pipelines – including the ones in NZ. But that is mainly things like compressor oil, or various stuff that gets carried through from the processing facilities in very small quantities that accumulates – that is what pigging is for. But it doesn’t accumulate when the pipeline is shut-in.

    And yes, if a hydrate plug lets go, and it hits a bend, it can damage the pipeline pipe (or rupture it). The graph showing the explosions at the bends? Those bends won’t be 90° bends, or else a pig couldn’t go round them! Pipelines simply aren’t design with 90° bends!


    October 3, 2022 at 9:02 am

    • Interesting. Thanks for that.

      Tom Hunter

      October 3, 2022 at 9:09 am

  13. The other issue that needs clarification, as I am not an explosives expert:

    If a shaped external charge was used what does the detonation hole look like, jagged pipe pointing in ?

    If it was an internal explosion then jagged edges pointing out?

    This can be determined for instance for a flying pipe called an aeroplane, whether it was an internal bomb, or a Russian anti aircraft missle bring down a passenger jet.


    October 3, 2022 at 11:09 am

    • If it was an external charge…

      Tall order as an external explosion would result in the loss of hydrostatic pressure in a fairly large radius. This would result in sinking of any ships in the affected area.


      October 3, 2022 at 12:24 pm

  14. Chris Morris

    October 3, 2022 at 8:34 pm

  15. Nord Stream 2 was developed and is operated by Nord Stream 2 AG, a subsidiary of the Russian state energy company Gazprom.

    Nord Stream 2 AG filed for bankruptcy on 1 March 2022. Half the costs of Nordstrom Stream 2 was financed via a loan from Uniper, Wintershall Dea, OMV, Engie, and Royal Dutch Shell.

    Presumably Gazprom will not be paying the loan back. And presumably they are now looking to supply gas to others via other pipelines.


    October 6, 2022 at 8:38 pm

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