In the airline industry, near misses are taken very seriously. They trigger root cause investigations. They can lead to changes in procedures, suspensions of pilots, immobilization of aircraft on the ground and heavy penalties. These common sense interventions can lead to inconvenience and loss of income, but they prevent accidents and save lives..
But that’s not the way it works at the North Weymouth natural gas compressor station. This facility, located 15 kilometers from downtown Boston, opened in September. It receives fracking gas via pipelines from Pennsylvania and West Virginia and is designed to pressurize gas to over 1,000 pounds per square inch (psi) and push it forward.
On May 20, the North Weymouth compressor experienced its fourth near miss in nine months – an unplanned release of over 11,000 cubic feet of highly pressurized gas that followed previous large leaks on September 11, September 30 and April 6 . The gas spread over North Weymouth and adjacent to South Quincy and Germantown. Fortunately, it did not explode. (There was another incident on May 26, when Enbridge says it ventilated An additional 11,397 cubic feet of gas in a controlled release, according to the company’s report to MassDEP.)
What has been the reaction of Enbridge, the Canadian pipeline company that owns and operates the facility? They said the May 20 leak was a “force majeure”, “force majeure” that happened for reasons beyond the company’s control. Root cause analysis? Any. Safety inspection? Likewise, none.
Enbridge’s backlash is typical of the arrogance, dishonesty, lack of regulatory oversight and lack of concern for public safety that has characterized the North Weymouth compressor project from the start. This is behavior that Enbridge has exhibited elsewhere, most notoriously in its efforts to run a major pipeline through lands sacred to Native Americans in northern Minnesota.
Enbridge’s decision to install the compressor in the densely populated area of North Weymouth, an economically depressed community with high levels of air pollution, is a blatant example of environmental injustice.
Enbridge’s rationale for the North Weymouth facility was that it claimed the compressor station would provide the gas needed to keep local homes warm in the winter. But this claim was fallacious. Little or no gas going through North Weymouth will stay in Boston and it is not needed here. Instead, the North Weymouth facility is the backbone of a large Enbridge project – Atlantic Bridge – that will export gas to Canada and possibly Europe.
Several of the companies that initially supported the North Weymouth project have now pulled out, calling it unnecessary. Wind and solar, which produce clean energy at a lower cost, are quickly overtaking gas. Burning gas creates pollution and accelerates climate change.
Enbridge’s decision to install the compressor in the densely populated area of North Weymouth, an economically depressed community with high levels of air pollution, is a blatant example of environmental injustice. Its construction was made possible by a Deeply flawed health impact assessment, commissioned by the Commonwealth, which ignored the high rates of heart disease and cancer in the community and the contribution of natural gas to climate change. He also ignored reports published by doctors and public health experts on the dangers posed by this facility in North Weymouth. residents, including the possibility that the compressor station could leak gas, burn and explode.
Leaks, fires and explosions occur every year in gas pipelines across the United States. Pipeline explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover in September 2018 damaged 130 homes, injured 23 people, including two firefighters, and killed an 18-year-old boy. The gas in this line was only pressurized to about 100 psi – much lower than in North Weymouth.
Air modeling shows that a gas explosion triggered by a two-minute leak at the North Weymouth compressor would endanger 964 homes, six schools with 3,100 students, nursing homes and a mental health facility. He would cremate cars on the nearby Fore River Bridge, which carries 30,000 commuters a day. Would Enbridge consider this to be an act of God?
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the body mandated to conduct the health impact assessment, has now retracted it. MAPC says it can no longer support the construction of a gas compressor station in North Weymouth. We would have liked them to say that much sooner.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – the agency in charge of interstate energy projects – has now taken note of the dismal safety record of the North Weymouth Compressor Station and its negative impact on environmental justice. It reconsiders the operating license of the compressor station.
As physicians deeply concerned with community health, social justice, and climate change, we are grateful for FERC’s renewed oversight. We are appalled by the blatant injustice of locating this dangerous facility in a densely populated, low-income and polluted community. It is a perfect prescription for ill health.
We urge the Commission to revoke the license for the North Weymouth Compressor Station. The continued operation of this ill-designed and unnecessary facility will block gas dependency for years to come and delay the transition to a carbon-free economy. The consequences will include higher rates of illness and premature death resulting from air pollution, toxins and climate change. It’s time to shut it down.