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Enbridge gets signoff to start controversial Mass. compressor station

Enbridge Inc. received the go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin service on a long-delayed component of the Atlantic Bridge pipeline expansion project: a 7,700-horsepower natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, Mass.

Enbridge had asked FERC for approval by Sept. 24 to allow the compressor station to enter service by Oct. 1. (FERC docket CP16-9)

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

While the extra capacity of the Atlantic Bridge project has been in service along a partial path since late 2019, the compressor has been hung up in state reviews and challenges for years, a reflection of the long permitting path for even small gas projects in New England.

Air permit dispute

The compressor station entered construction late in 2019, after a lengthy state air permit appeals process that followed FERC's certificate authorization for the Atlantic Bridge project in early 2017. Project opponents have regularly pressed FERC to stop construction, arguing for instance that construction should not be allowed during the coronavirus pandemic because of social distancing concerns.

The town of Weymouth also challenged the air quality permit for the project. On June 3, 2020, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 1st Circuit found the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection did not follow its own procedures for assessing whether an electric motor was the best available control technology to power the compressor, as opposed to a dry low nitrogen oxide combustion turbine selected for the project. The case consolidated challenges by the Town of Weymouth, state and local officials and residents of the nearby towns. (U.S. Appeals Court for the 1st Circuit docket 19-1794)

No halt to construction

But construction was allowed to continue, and as Enbridge noted in its request, the 1st Circuit on Aug. 31 remanded the proceeding without vacating the existing air permit. The court explained that vacating the permit would have meant "the project will be out of operation for most of the New England and Canadian winter heating season," a period of peak demand for natural gas, which in the court's view "materially alter[ed] the 'balance of equities and public interest considerations' in favor of remanding without vacatur."

The court also noted a preliminary conclusion by staff of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that found that the electric motor was not the best available control technology.

Enbridge welcomed the FERC order. "Following a thorough and inclusive review process by federal and state agencies which began in January 2015, we are pleased to move forward with placing this important facility in service ahead of the upcoming winter heating season," the company said in a Sept. 25 email. The company has said the Atlantic Bridge project will let three gas utilities in Maine and one in Canada benefit from additional access to the fuel.

In the run-up to the FERC order, the group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station demanded that the agency refuse the request. The group also raised concerns about a gas leak, and it noted that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection decision on the best technology for the station would not be complete until Sept. 29, after which there may be an appeal.

Maya Weber is a reporter with S&P Global Platts. S&P Global Market Intelligence and S&P Global Platts are owned by S&P Global Inc.