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State Reviewing Controversial Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Plan

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Residents in Weymouth protest the proposed natural gas compressor station.
Craig LeMoult/WGBH
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A group of protesters gathered earlier this month on the steps of the Massachusetts State House, singing, "What do we do with methane gas? Keep it in the ground!"

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Jennifer Mathien of Hingham at a protest at the Massachusetts State House
Lucy Martirosyan

Keeping methane gas in the ground is a priority for them. And they certainly don’t want to see that gas go through a compressor station in or near their community. 

“The proposed Weymouth's compressor station is truly a threat to my children's safety, security, and health,” said protester Jennifer Mathien of Hingham.

The Weymouth compressor would be built on a four-acre lot in an industrial area just over the massive Fore River Bridge from Quincy. 

At the site, Weymouth town councilor Becky Haugh pointed to an empty lot on the other side of a metal fence. “So right now we're pretty much just looking at open space right now with some trees and grass.”

The station would compress natural gas to keep it moving through transmission pipelines that snake out across the Northeast. Haugh said she doesn’t think this is an appropriate spot for that compression.

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Weymouth town councilor Becky Haugh at the site of the proposed compressor station
Craig LeMoult/WGBH

“Most compressor stations are sited in very rural communities," she said. "So if an explosion or any malfunction were to happen there's nothing that it would affect. Whereas here as you can see, you're standing right here. Should a fire occur or anything you have the bridge right there you have the sewer pumping station, you have the factory, you have the gas power plant. So we don't know what the consequences would be.”  

And even though it’s an industrial area, Haugh pointed to a building on the other side of some trees. “So literally that's the first house right there," she said. And she’s worried emissions from the plant can cause everything from nosebleeds to cancer.

The company that wants to build the compressor, Enbridge, says residents have nothing to worry about. 

“Compressor stations are highly regulated facilities and compressor stations must meet rigorous siting standards established by FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” said spokesperson Mary Lee Hanley.

Hanley said compressor stations must be strategically placed at intervals along the lines, and this Weymouth location is perfect. “It will not result in any impacts to forested lands, wetlands, water bodies, or public roads," she said.    

Tom Kiley, the president and CEO of the Northeast Gas Association, a trade group for the industry, said there are 1,400 of these stations across the country.

“There are some very rural areas in the middle of woods in some states," Kiley said. "But in other areas, the compressor stations are located in population centers.” Kiley said that’s not a problem, because compressor stations are safe.

There are two other compressor stations in the state. Last month, Enbridge dropped its proposal to build another one in Rehoboth, after residents there voted against the plan in a town referendum. Kiley said opposition to compressor sites is the usual not-in-my-backyard pressure that any energy facility faces when it’s proposed.

“At the end of the day, we need these facilities sited if we're going to continue to deliver product uninterrupted reliably and safely,” he said.

The initial application for the facility said there would be some scary-sounding emissions. But when the feds approved the plan in January, they said all those emissions were well below federal limits. That’s not reassuring to Dr. Curt Nordgaard, a Boston pediatrician who’s become an activist against the compressor.

“Even down to very low levels, air pollution is harmful for human health, and that's even below what's considered to be a safe standard today,” Nordgaard said.

Nordgaard and other opponents of the compressor plan hired an outside company to test the current air quality at and around the proposed site.

“The company tested for about 60 different chemicals and we found violations or exceedances of 10 of those.”

And he said the state should be doing something about what’s there already -- not adding more of those pollutants with a new station.

Governor Charlie Baker initially didn’t take a position on the compressor debate. The protesters outside his office earlier this month wanted the governor to direct state agencies to deny permits for the Weymouth compressor.  Baker didn’t go that far, but after that protest, he did order his Departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection to conduct a review, before issuing any state permits. Those reviews are happening now. 

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