Lithuania’s gas pipeline operator Amber Grid has completed remedial work on the gas trunk line that caught fire on Friday afternoon, with images of flames reaching about 50 metres in height, posted online by local residents, initially sparking suggestions of possible sabotage.

However, in its latest statement Amber Grid said that according to its preliminary assessment, the incident was caused “by technical reasons”.

“Gas pipelines are potentially hazardous installations around the world, and care must be taken when in their vicinity. Once the causes of the incident have been investigated, Amber Grid will assess the possibility of improving the maintenance of gas pipelines to ensure that such incidents do not happen again,” chief executive Nemunas Biknius said.

Separate investigations of the pipeline rupture have been scheduled by Lithuania’s law enforcement authorities, the country’s National Energy Regulatory Council and Amber Grid’s own commission of experts.

During the remedial work, which lasted until Sunday morning, Amber Grid cut out a damaged 10-metre section, replaced it with a new section and X-rayed the welding seams.

The operator added that other sections of the pipeline were scheduled to be inspected during Sunday. Once all the inspection work is complete, the gas supply may be restored, it added.

The incident on Friday was localised within four hours, according to Amber Grid, with no people injured. However, authorities ordered the evacuation of all 250 residents of the village of Valakeliai about half a kilometre away.

The gas transmission system at the site of the incident consists of two parallel 50-centimetre diameter gas pipelines running towards Latvia, built in the early 1960s.

The rupture that caused the fierce burning of gas occurred on one of them but the other pipeline was not damaged, Amber Grid said.

Gas supply to the nearby Pasvalys district and other consumers in the northern part of Lithuania continued uninterrupted through this second pipeline. Gas deliveries to Latvia were also restored on Friday evening, the operator added.

Regional importance

Lithuania’s importance as a regional gas hub increased after the country and two other Baltic states — Latvia and Estonia — opted out from continuing to buy Russian pipeline gas from its state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom.

Besides the liquefied natural gas import terminal in the Baltic port Klaipeda in Lithuania, known as Independence — from where gas may be supplied to Latvia and Estonia to replace Russian gas — Lithuania last May also inaugurated an interconnector with neighbouring Poland.

Known as Gas Interconnection Poland–Lithuania, the 508-kilometre pipeline can transport gas in both directions.

The link can carry about 2 billion cubic metres per annum of gas from Poland to Lithuania and onwards to Latvia and Estonia, and about the same amount in the reverse direction, if needed.

Security of energy installations in Europe has become a major point of concern since explosions on the subsea segments of Russian subsea gas pipelines to Germany — Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 — in territorial waters of Sweden and Denmark, at the end of September; and sightings of unidentified drones near gas production platforms in the Norwegian North Sea.

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