Climate scientist demands 'war crimes' charges for whoever ordered pipeline sabotage
This file photo taken on November 8, 2011 shows a helicopter flying over the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline terminal prior to an inaugural ceremony for the first of Nord Stream's twin 1,224 kilometre gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea, in Lubmin, northeastern Germany. © John Macdougall, AFP

A Stanford University climate scientist on Wednesday called for war crimes charges against whoever is found to have ordered the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline system, an incident that experts say could result in the largest-ever recorded release of methane emissions.

"Whoever ordered this should be prosecuted for war crimes and go to jail," Stanford's Rob Jackson told the Associated Press as scientists assessed the potentially massive environmental impact of the pipeline damage, which European countries and NATO have formally concluded is the result of a deliberate attack.

"This is a colossal amount of gas, in really large bubbles."

On Thursday, Swedish authorities announced the discovery of a fourth leak in the Nord Stream pipeline network that carries Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea, adding to the three leaks found earlier this week. Sweden said it detected two underwater blasts the same day the first three leaks were discovered.

While speculation and finger-pointing abound—with European Union officials suggesting Russia is to blame and Moscow hinting that the U.S. or another NATO country may have been behind the attack—it's not yet clear who was responsible and no credible evidence has been presented by those making accusations.

In a statement Thursday, NATO said that "all currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage."

"These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations underway to determine the origin of the damage," the alliance added. "Any deliberate attack against allies' critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response."

Since the leaks were first detected earlier this week, scientists have voiced alarm about the climate disaster that could result, given the quantity of gas pouring out of the pipelines and the planet-warming potency of methane.

Danish authorities have estimated that the two pipelines contained a combined 778 million cubic meters of gas when they were breached—and gas is still flowing out of the pipelines days after the leaks were detected.

"This is a colossal amount of gas, in really large bubbles," Grant Allen, an environmental science expert at Manchester University, told The Guardian on Wednesday. "If you have small sources of gas, nature will help out by digesting the gas. In the Deepwater Horizon spill [in the Gulf of Mexico], there was a lot of attenuation of methane by bacteria."

"My scientific experience is telling me that—with a big blow-up like this—methane will not have time to be attenuated by nature," Allen added. "So a significant proportion will be vented as methane gas."

The AP reported Wednesday that early estimates indicate the damaged pipelines could "discharge as much as five times as much of the potent greenhouse as was released by the Aliso Canyon disaster, the largest known terrestrial release of methane in U.S. history."

That leak, discovered in California in 2015, unleashed around 100,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.

Rowan Emslie, a spokesperson with the Clean Air Task Force, told CNN Thursday that "the unprecedented aspect" of the Nord Stream damage and resulting methane release "is that we don't think we've seen a leak this large, this fast before, which is why it's so worrying."