The Baltics will have to ramp up their offshore and maritime energy infrastructure protection efforts

  • 2023-07-16
  • Lukas Trakimavicius

The Baltic energy landscape is rapidly changing. The deployment of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals and the development of massive offshore wind farms will make the Baltic States more energy independent than ever before. However, this also means that their energy security will increasingly be linked to the safety of their energy infrastructure out in the Baltic Sea. 

In the years preceding Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia enjoyed a comfortable position as one of the leading gas suppliers to the Baltic States. In 2020, for example, Lithuania relied on Russia for around 40 percent, Estonia for some 50 percent and Latvia for nearly 100 percent of their natural gas needs.   

Most crucially, as of early 2022, there was only one LNG import terminal operational in the Baltic States. It was in Klaipeda, Lithuania.  

However, in the wake of the war, the Baltics decided to completely halt all imports of Russian gas and to expand their fleet of LNG terminals. In April 2022, Estonia and Finland announced plans to develop LNG import infrastructure in the Gulf of Finland, which became operational earlier this year. Meanwhile, in September 2022, the Latvian government endorsed the development of the Skulte LNG import terminal, which might go online in 2024 or 2025.

In parallel to these gas diversification efforts, the Baltics have also announced ambitious plans for offshore wind energy. According to the Marienborg Declaration, signed in 2022, Lithuania will aim to have at least 1.4 gigawatts (GW), Estonia 1 GW and Latvia 0.4 GW of offshore wind energy in operation by 2030. 

All of these new LNG facilities and offshore windfarms will be deployed next to existing installations, such as oil import terminals and submarine power cables that already traverse the Baltic Sea.

However, some of this energy infrastructure might be exposed to a number of security risks. These could include anchoring, trawling or even terrorist attacks. Yet an even greater concern is that hostile regimes could target this infrastructure to disrupt energy flows. 

If anything, last September’s attacks against the Nord Stream gas pipelines have demonstrated that no energy infrastructure in the Baltic Sea is safe from sabotage. 

Energy infrastructure is also vulnerable to cyber threats. These could include attacks against industrial control systems or computers of energy companies or power operators. The 2021 ransomware attack on the operators of the Colonial Pipeline in the United States serves as a particularly good example of just how disruptive cyber threats could be.  

Therefore, in the near future, the Baltic States will likely have to double their offshore and maritime energy infrastructure protection efforts. In practical terms, this means a need for more resources dedicated to surveillance, exercises and cyber defences of energy infrastructure at sea and on land.

Given the regional nature of security risks to offshore and maritime energy infrastructure, it is important to deal with them not only on a national level, but also multilaterally. To this end, the NATO and EU announcement to create a joint task force on resilience and critical infrastructure protection is a welcome step in the right direction. 

For its part, in late 2023, the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence will conduct the Coherent Resilience 2023 Baltic table-top exercise. Organized in collaboration with the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, this table-top exercise will support the energy resilience-building efforts of the Baltic national authorities and power system operators. It will focus on critical energy infrastructure protection issues related to maritime and offshore energy installations, including ports and other facilities in the Baltic Sea. 

The shift towards renewable energy and the decoupling from Russian energy supplies will make the Baltic energy systems more resilient and energy independent than ever before. Yet, going forward, the region’s energy security will increasingly be reliant on the ability to keep its energy infrastructure safe from harm.

Lukas Trakimavicius works at the research and lessons learned division of the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence. He is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington D.C.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and are contributed in a purely personal capacity.