In a tweet published on August 30, Mac Lesggy, famous host of the science program E = M6, says that “Russia is currently burning in the open air, at Yamal, the fossil gas that it no longer delivers to Germany, releasing 9,000 t of CO2/day into the atmosphere.” His message refers to another text from a user, who writes that “the Russian government is waging a military war against Ukraine️, an energy war against Europe and a war against the climate by burning in the open air immense quantities of fossil gas which it does not supply to Germany ».
This last message contains a link to an article in German from the Cologne newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger entitled “Risk of ecological disaster: Gazprom burns huge amounts of German gas”. The daily (like many German media at the same time) echoes information published by the BBC.
In an investigation of August 26, the British public broadcaster reported that nearly 4.34 million cubic meters of natural gas (a value equivalent to 10 million euros) were burned every day near the Russian border with Finland. Flaring this gas would release around 9,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per day. These volumes have been appraised by Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consulting firm specializing in oil and gas energy.
Flames visible from Finland
According to his observations, a large-scale flame has been seen since June at the level of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant located in Portovaya, northwest of Saint Petersburg. However, in this same city there is a compressor station at the start of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline which carries gas under the sea to Germany.
These same flames, visible from the Finnish coast, had already been filmed by Finnish public broadcaster YLE August 3. The editorial staff had also documented this fire by satellite images and deduced that it “could be a sign that the Russian natural gas plant is not doing well”. The German press immediately reported the information, highlighting a very specific context: in mid-June, Gazprom reduced its deliveries by the Baltic Sea gas pipeline to 40% of its capacity, before lowering them to 20% on July 26 . Gazprom had justified itself by invoking a technical problem and by involving a turbine sent for repair in Canada. An argument rejected by the German government, which pointed out that the coveted turbine was in Germany and was available at any time.
Asked during the BBC inquiry into the flames seen in Portovaya, German Ambassador to the UK Miguel Berger speculated that the Russians “have no other places where they can sell their gas, so they have to burn it”. The diplomat had insisted that European efforts to reduce dependence on Russian gas had “a significant effect on the Russian economy”.
The German daily Die Welt had come to the same conclusions during the Finnish TV revelations and noted “that they indicate that the reduction in deliveries to Germany also has financial consequences for Gazprom and therefore for the Russian State, since the undelivered quantities apparently cannot be resold in full to other customers, but must be burned”.
According to the BBC, Mark Davis, the CEO of the British company Capterio, which follows gas flaring around the world, also believes that the combustion of gas seen in Portovaya is not accidental and that it is a a deliberate decision made for operational reasons. He explains to the BBC that “Operators are often reluctant to shut down facilities for fear that it will be technically difficult or expensive to bring them back into service, and that is probably the case here”.
Gazprom does not indicate the reasons for this burnt gas
Asked by the BBC, the Russian gas group did not respond. Note that the British chain remains cautious about the reasons that push the company to burn gas.
Other experts contacted by the BBC also mention other reasons, relating to technical or security constraints. “This type of long-term flaring can mean they are missing certain equipment” says Professor of Energy Engineering at LUT University of Finland, Esa Vakkilainen. And to add that“Due to the trade embargo with Russia, [les Russes] are unable to manufacture the high quality valves required for oil and gas processing. So maybe there are broken valves and they can’t get them replaced.” For the Norwegian firm, Rystad Energy, behind the BBC analysis, “the technical reasons for the flaring remain unknown”.
Regarding the climate impact, the BBC and YLE articles insist that the flaring of natural gas produces soot particles known as black carbon, which once directed north are deposited on snow and ice. This black carbon will “significantly accelerate their melting” reports to the BBC Professor Matthew Johnson, of Carleton University in Canada.