For the past few years, a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts has stirred controversy among activists who oppose the station’s environmental and public health impacts. In contrast, some government officials support the site’s construction for its financial benefits, turning a blind eye to the risks it poses to local citizens and the surrounding ecosystem.
Four years ago, a Canadian company called Enbridge Energy proposed the construction of a fracked gas compressor station in Weymouth, a town on the South Shore of Boston. A compressor station boosts the pressure of natural gas pipelines to keep the gas flowing. There are currently five compressors in Massachusetts, and about 1,400 across the country. The new station in Weymouth would be placed in the Fore River Basin and would connect two existing pipelines to deliver natural gas to Canada and New England.
Opponents of the station argue that it will contribute to climate change by prolonging the region’s reliance on fossil fuels and emitting methane, a greenhouse gas. Protestors are also critical of Enbridge and the public safety hazards the compressor may introduce to Weymouth. In August, a natural gas pipeline owned by Enbridge exploded in Kentucky and killed one woman. The proposed site is less than 1.5 miles from schools with over 3,000 children as well nursing homes and a mental health treatment facility. Weymouth is also burdened by existing industrial activities, so an additional compressor station would worsen the health and safety of a community that is already at a statistically higher risk.
Additionally, Enbridge gave tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, according to a video by an activist group called Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS). FRRACS claims that Weymouth residents have fought against the compressor, but Baker has repeatedly refused to meet with them. The project will also emit carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde, yet Baker has not made a safety assessment for the project, according to FRRACS.
While Baker has evidently chosen profits over people, many other politicians have taken a firm stance against the compressor station. Weymouth’s mayor, as well as the mayors of Quincy and Braintree, oppose it. Stephen Lynch, who represents Weymouth’s congressional district, and state senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, have also announced their disapproval of the project.
Nathan Phillips, a professor in the Earth and Environment department at Boston University, has been particularly vocal about his disapproval of the compressor station. In October, he was arrested for his engagement in a peaceful protest of the station, though he was soon released and all charges against him were dropped. He acknowledged how his privilege factored into his ability to protest, and he explained that he “passes” as a white male, but if he were black or brown, he may not have been treated with the same respect and leniency by law enforcement.
In addition to discussing the compressor station with students in his classes and protesting in his free time as an activist, Phillips also spreads awareness about the compressor station on social media. On Twitter, Phillips actively calls out politicians who support the station for their own financial and political gain. For example, he recently tweeted that Governor Baker and a Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) agency head “are directly invested in Exxon Mobil, which owns 10 percent of the Maritimes & Northeast pipeline that the proposed Weymouth Compressor would supply” and asked “why didn’t Baker disclose this financial conflict of interest?” In another tweet, he urged his followers to call Baker and ask him “two simple questions: Where is his promised public safety review? Where is his promised climate resilience review, which incorporates the results from the public safety review?”
Despite the adamant disapproval of local residents and activists, the state has continually approved the project’s advancement. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection conducted two air quality tests on the site and determined that, though benzene and formaldehyde will be released by the project, “estimated air emissions from the proposed station are not likely to cause health effects through direct exposure.” In mid-November, the state Office of Coastal Management announced that the project is in line with Massachusetts standards for coastline development. While it seems that Enbridge is succeeding in this political battle, protestors have not given up hope and will continue to fight for environmental justice in Weymouth.
Enbridge responds to incident on East Tennessee Natural Gas system. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.enbridge.com/media-center/media-statements/east-tennessee-ng-system-incident.
FRRACS. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nocompressor.com/home.LeMoult, C. (2019, November 13). Weymouth Compressor Station Clears Final Regulatory Hurdle. Retrieved from https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2019/11/12/weymouth-compressor-station-clears-final-regulatory-hurdle.