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Groups ask FERC to rethink Weymouth OK after emergency shutdowns


PHMSA corrective action order issued Oct. 1

Project would add northbound capacity

  • Author
  • Maya Weber
  • Editor
  • Shashwat Pradhan
  • Commodity
  • Natural Gas

Washington — Opponents of Enbridge's Weymouth Compressor Station are asking the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to rethink its authorization for the project to start service, citing two emergency shutdowns in September at the recently completed facility and a subsequent corrective action order from safety regulators.

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Enbridge on Sept. 24 received a go-ahead from FERC to start service on the long-delayed component of its Atlantic Bridge project -- a 7,700 hp natural gas compressor station in Weymouth Massachusetts. According to Enbridge, the company temporarily paused operations while completing a thorough review of the incidents and working with PHMSA to "make certain the facility is fully ready for service."

The Atlantic Bridge project was designed to expand Algonquin Gas Transmission system capacity by 132,705 Dt/d from receipt points in New York and New Jersey along the mainline, which extends to the north of Boston. It also enables northbound capacity on Maritimes and Northeast US from its interconnect with Algonquin in Beverly, Massachusetts, into eastern Canada.

The compressor has long faced local opposition, and critics of the project are pointing to the two emergency shutdowns and a subsequent action by safety regulators as they press FERC to reverse its decision.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on Oct. 1 ordered Algonquin Gas Transmission to take corrective actions after two incidents: a Sept. 11 gasket failure on a sump tank during commissioning, which triggered manual operation of an emergency shutdown system and the release of about 169 Mcf of natural gas; as well as a second emergency shutdown for unknown reasons several weeks later.

The PHMSA in the order found that continued operation without corrective measures would be hazardous, citing uncertainties around the shutdowns and the station's location in a populated area, near a heavily trafficked commuter road.

It told Algonquin to develop a restart plan, prior to restarting an isolated segment, including a review for conditions similar to those that caused the incidents. Restart initially would face a restriction of operating pressure to 80% of the pressure before the second incident. A root cause analysis was required within 90 days.

Rehearing, rescission sought

Those seeking rehearing and rescission of FERC's Sept. 24 authorization to commence service include Food & Water Watch, Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, and Quincy, Massachusetts, Councilor Rebecca Haugh.

They argued unplanned emergency shutdowns threatening public safety and environmental justice concerns exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic required FERC to complete a situational and strategic assessment.

In addition, they pointed to a letter from US Representative Stephen Lynch, Democrat-Massachusetts, urging FERC to withhold authorization due to significant safety concerns raised by the unplanned shutdowns.

In their view, FERC has authority to reopen the record and must do so due to the change in core circumstances concerning project need, project safety and environmental justice concerns.

Enbridge view

Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron said the company is cooperating with PHMSA and is "committed to placing the Weymouth Compressor Station in service only once we have obtained all required regulatory approvals and are fully confident any issues have been properly addressed."

He said the emergency shutdown stack was used to vent natural gas during the Sept. 11 and Sept. 30 events. It "vents gas in a safe and controlled manner, after which the gas dissipates," he said.