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Weymouth Compressor Shuts Down Again — For Fourth Time In Less Than A Year

The Weymouth gas compressor station. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The Weymouth gas compressor station. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is shut down for the fourth time since it began operating last year.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor, said in a statement that the company is "performing maintenance work" and anticipates "safely returning the compressor station to service shortly." He said the maintenance work was "on a piece of equipment which helps reduce compressor unit emissions", but he did not say whether it was planned in advance.

On Thursday night, Enbridge posted a notice that the compressor station had "experienced an outage" and in a separate notice declared a "force majeure." Loosely translated as an "act of God," a force majeure usually means the shutdown occurred for reasons out of the company's control.

"It is standard practice to declare a Force Majeure when a compressor station becomes unavailable for service," the spokesperson said in an email. "In this case, we identified maintenance work to be performed and notified our customers that the Weymouth Compressor Station would be unavailable while the work was performed."

However, Katy Eiseman, a lawyer and president of the advocacy group The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast says "routine maintenance is not what I think of as a justifiable reason to claim force majeure," though she says she'd have to review Enbridge's customer contracts to be sure.

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University agrees, noting that "a force majeure usually has to be something that it is not within the control of the provider."

This is the fourth time in less than a year that the Weymouth Compressor has shut down unexpectedly. The first two shutdowns occurred in September 2020 and resulted in the emergency release of 169,000 and 195,000 standard cubic feet of gas, respectively. During the third shutdown in early April, the facility vented 11,430 standard cubic feet of gas.

State law requires Enbridge to report any gas releases that exceed 10,000 standard cubic feet. According to Enbridge, "there was minimal venting ... well below reporting requirements" associated with this latest shutdown.

But for Sen. Ed Markey, a long-time opponent of the compressor station, this most recent shutdown is a cause for concern.

“Whether an act of God or a failure of man, the Weymouth Compressor Station’s fourth shutdown in a matter of months is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever," the senator said in a statement. "It’s dangerous, unnecessary, and a clear and present threat to public safety."

Markey said he's asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look into this most recent outage at the compressor.

The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is part of a larger interstate pipeline system known as the Atlantic Bridge Project. After years of delay — and much public opposition — the project went into service last year. When operating, the compressor enables fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to travel through New England and into Maine and Canada.

This article was originally published on May 21, 2021.

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Miriam Wasser Twitter Reporter, EarthWhile
Miriam Wasser is a reporter for WBUR's environmental vertical.

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