On Tuesday morning, the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station released a large quantity of gas into the air above the facility. The cause of the unplanned release remains unclear, but the company that owns and operates the facility, Enbridge, said it’s “continuing to gather information.”
Under state law, Enbridge is required to notify state and local officials if it vents more than 10,000 standard cubic feet of gas — an amount roughly equivalent to what the average U.S. home uses in two months.
According to Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron, the gas was released "in a controlled manner" through the compressor station's tall vent stack and "the safety of the facility and surrounding area were not impacted by this occurrence."
But opponents of the compressor like Alice Arena of the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) are skeptical. Big gas releases like this “don’t instill confidence in safety at all," she said, adding that perhaps federal regulators should have some sort of “three-strikes rule” for problematic facilities.
This is the third unplanned gas release in the last 8 months. The first — on Sept. 11, 2020 — occurred after an O-ring gasket failed and workers had to manually shut down the compressor. The second — on Sept. 30, 2020 — occurred after the emergency shutdown system loss power and automatically shut itself down. In both cases, the total amount of gas vented turned out to be much higher than initially reported.
The two events last September also trigged a federal investigation from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). That inquiry wrapped up in January, and the agency cleared Enbridge to begin operations.
A spokesperson for PHMSA did not immediately respond to a question about whether it would open another investigation, but Sen. Ed Markey sure thinks it should. And he thinks the federal government should prevent the facility from operating in the meantime.
“This latest release—following two emergency releases last fall and an extended shutdown at the direction of our pipeline safety agency—is why this compressor station needs to be shut down immediately,” he said in a statement. “It’s a threat to public safety, to environmental justice, and to the climate. It’s not needed for the community and puts our families and children at risk every day that it’s operational.”
Markey also reiterated his call for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reconsider the compressor's operating license.
"If all the facts are considered, there is no way that this station’s operation or siting is in the public interest," he said.
As WBUR has previously reported, FERC appears to be taking the unprecedented step of publicly considering whether it was a mistake to allow the Weymouth Compressor to start up last year, and whether it should revoke its operating license.
In February, FERC's commissioners voted 3-2 to establish a "paper briefing process" — essentially a public comment period — to “further examine the impact of the station on air quality, public safety, and environmental justice."
Sen. Markey filed a brief last week, writing that "last year’s two unplanned emergency gas releases put into sharp relief how the Weymouth Compressor Station poses a threat to public safety." Add in the "ongoing respiratory health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic [and] the effect of these circumstances on air quality and public safety merit a full reexamination of the project."
This article was originally published on April 06, 2021.