By Rachel Wencek, CABA Volunteer
The views expressed in this Op-Ed article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of CABA.
I have lived in Weymouth, MA for most of my life. I grew up in the area and have fond memories of playing on the beach during the summer and eating seafood at local restaurants with my parents. It’s a densely populated area with mostly small businesses crowded along Route 3A which ferries people from the South Shore to Boston. The areas beyond 3A are mostly residential until you get to the next town square.
Having grown up here I thought I was always I knew what was happening in the area. So it came as a shock to me when I heard a Natural Gas Compressor station was being planned right next to the busy Fore River Bridge. Even more shocking is that I first heard about it not through the town or the company building it, Spectra Energy, but from a 350MA newsletter. So to learn more about this Compressor station I went to Spectra’s Open House for Weymouth residents on March 19th.
What was thought to be a Q&A to local residents and businesses about Spectra’s plans was instead propaganda put on by out-of-state representatives with no local knowledge. When I first walked into the door, I was greeted by a sign stating that videos and audio recording were not permitted, which seemed odd as the purpose was to inform locals on future actions to be taken by Spectra Energy. This one sign exemplified the disengagement you could feel from Spectra representatives and the overall hidden agenda behind the Open House.
Tables were set up around the perimeter of the room each with flyers and trinkets with the Spectra logo. In the center of the room were three clusters of stands with the four posters in each. About 35 Spectra employees in light blue shirts were walking around the room. All of the employees I spoke with could answer general questions on compressor stations, like info you’d find on Google, but no one could tell me anything on the proposed one in Weymouth (Fig. 1), or how the pipelines would affect local residents. No one was able to answer my questions on the size of the station, how much natural gas would be piped in, or how many chemicals were going to be released into the air. They couldn’t answer how it will affect property values and they had no idea that the site of the station was prone to flooding (Fig. 2). *Note site was originally planned to be in the flood zone, but location was moved in April.* The Spectra employees present weren’t even from the area. Most were from either Connecticut or New York, while the few people in business suits came from Spectra’s headquarters in Houston, Texas.
Nor did there seem to be any knowledge about compressor station blow-downs. Blow-downs are when natural gas is vented from the station during normal maintenance, abnormal operations, and emergencies. While all of them could describe the sound blow-downs made, there seemed to be no consensus on how long it lasted, how far the noise pollution spread, or even how frequently they would occur. All of these factors are crucial for businesses operating in the plant’s vicinity to be made aware of, as it could affect business.
What I learned from the Open House, which I didn’t find online, was that there would be 5 people at the compressor station during “daylight” hours Monday-Friday, but the station would be monitored 24/7 from Houston, TX. When asked if Spectra employees had to live a certain distance away I only got floundering. But they did let me know that in the case of an emergency the fire department was not allowed to go near the station until someone from Spectra arrived first. When a compressor station malfunctioned in rural Searsmont, Maine, emergency personnel had to wait over 40 minutes for a Spectra employee to arrive while natural gas spewed over the town. Unfortunately there hasn’t been answer on how much gas was released during those 40 minutes but the last estimate was over 71,000cubic feet. If something like this happened in Weymouth many more people would be affected and an evacuation much more chaotic.
The atmosphere of the Open House felt very sketchy. The entire time I was there I was taking notes on what the employees told me. While talking to an engineer, a different Spectra employee came up on the other side of me without introducing themselves, and leaned over to look at my notes. This was surprisingly common as many employees weren’t willing to engage with people and mostly kept to themselves. It was as though they were afraid of something other than their agenda would come out of this event.
Overall it was a very odd atmosphere. Instead of the expected open forum Q&A set up to answer residents’ questions with in depth knowledge, people were split up and talked to one-on-one. Spectra staff could not directly answer any questions, and seemed disengaged from the community surrounding the station they are planning to build. I am still unsure on why this event was held, as nobody was willing to truly answer the questions presented by a stakeholder. It is unclear whether or not this was intentional, but it felt like the staff didn’t even know what was going on with this specific project. The company’s taglines were used in a very general way without any specialized site-specific knowledge. The whole atmosphere was very unnerving with unfriendly, uninformed staff treating you with suspicion. The biggest lessons I took away were that the people who were there were uninformed and could not give details about the proposed station. I left the Open House feeling uneasy and with more questions now than when I arrived.
Fig.1) Current (as of April 30th) Proposed site of Compressor Station (Blue Circle). From Becky Haugh. District 1 Town Councilor of Weymouth facebook page https://www.facebook.com/beckyhaughforweymouth?fref=ts
Fig.2) FEMA flood maps of Site. Red circle is Site of proposed Compressor Station. Last modified in 2012.