Experts Discuss Access Northeast Project at CARCS Presentation
Citizens Against the Rehoboth Compressor Station (CARCS) held a presentation on March 30 on the $3 billion Access Northeast gas pipeline expansion project, a few days before the town of Rehoboth voted on a ballot question about a gas compressor station that is part of the project.
On the nonbinding question, voters overwhelmingly said they don’t want the compressor station in town. The vote was 2,261 against and 224 in favor. The board of selectmen put the question on the ballot to gauge residents’ opinion of the station. CARCS, a citizens group opposed to the pipeline expansion and the gas compressor station, had urged residents to vote ‘no’ on the question. They hoped to gain the support of local officials who had not yet taken a position on the project.
CARCS says the compressor station, planned for a site in Rehoboth near the Attleboro and Seekonk lines, will be noisy, threaten well water, and pollute the air with potentially toxic emissions, among other problems.
Compressor stations increase the pressure and rate of flow of the natural gas to help move it through the pipeline. There are more than 1,400 compressor stations in the U.S. (according to 2008 data) and they are usually placed about 50 to 70 miles apart along the pipeline system. According to the accessnortheasterenergy.com website, the Access Northeast project, being developed by Eversource Energy, National Grid and Spectra Energy (now Enbridge) is “designed to maximize direct pipeline interconnects to over 60 percent of New England’s power plants, will lower costs and save money, increase reliability, be scalable for times of peak demand and support renewable energy sources.”
The speakers at the CARCS meeting were: Elizabeth Mahony, Assistant Attorney General and Senior Policy Advisor for Energy at the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey; Susan Racine, MD, a board-certified internist practicing primary care in Boston and a member of Mass Health Care Providers Against Fracked Gas, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the American College of Physicians; and Kasey Tenerowicz, a family nurse practitioner who works at Dot House Health, a community health center in Dorchester.
Mahony talked about a study commissioned by the Attorney General’s office in 2015, “Power System Reliability in New England: Meeting Electric Resource Needs in an Era of Growing Dependence on Natural Gas,” that was designed to do two things: first, determine whether the region is facing electric reliability challenges through 2030 and second, identify the most cost-effective and clean solutions for addressing any of those challenges.
Spectra Energy has said that New England needs more pipeline to meet increasing demand for natural gas. CARCS believes that new pipelines are not needed. The Attorney General’s study found that, under existing conditions, there is no electric reliability deficiency. “Our study showed that in fact we didn’t need additional gas capacity to meet our needs,” Mahony said.
Mahony said the study also asked how the area would meet its needs, if there are small reliability issues for a few hours at certain times over the next fifteen years. Mahony said the study found that the most cost- effective way is through energy efficiency and demand response.
Most people are familiar with energy efficiency. Many energy saving tips, from lowering your thermostat to using Energy Star appliances – can be found online. Demand response is a program that usually involves businesses. It is a contractual relationship where customers volunteer to lessen their electricity use for a certain amount of time during events where more electricity is needed. “It’s done today, but we’d like to see it done much, much more,” Mahony said. “We’ve been advocating for it in our state-wide energy plans.” Mahony said that other solutions were looked at, including hydro-electric, pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG), but energy efficiency and demand response “were the best.”
In addition to the Attorney General’s study, Mahony said other data shows New England doesn’t need additional electricity. Recent information from ISO New England, which oversees the regional electric grid, supports the argument that electric markets will produce enough electricity over the next few years without any new pipelines, Mahony said.
Mahoney talked briefly about the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling last August against a so-called ‘pipeline tax.’ It said that electric customers cannot be charged a surcharge on their electric bills to pay for the cost of constructing the Access Northeast project. National Grid reportedly called the decision a “disappointing setback” but said it will continue to explore its options.
The other speakers, Susan Racine and Kasey Tenerowicz, discussed public health issues related to the gas pipeline project and the proposed compressor station. Racine briefly discussed how a compressor station works. It is basically a giant engine, she said. The stations operate day and night, year-round to push the gas through the pipelines. “The engine is always running, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it does create noise and air pollution,” Racine said. She said the noise “has been likened to that of a jet engine taking off at all hours of the day and night.” (It should be noted that federal regulations require that a compressor station’s noise levels do not exceed 55 decibels (dBA) both day and night and Spectra/Enbridge says it adheres to federal regulations. (As a reference, a home dishwasher is reportedly 50 dBA.))
The presenters also talked about the risk of air pollution. They showed data from Spectra that listed air pollutants that are present in gas, including nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and more. Other chemicals in the gas, she said, include benzene, formaldehyde, and radon. Benzene, they said, is a “known carcinogen.” “There’s no question that these toxins are present in fracked gas,” Racine said. Fracking is a process of injecting high pressure liquid and chemicals into underground rock to force open fissures and extract oil or gas. (Note: The Access Northeast project doesn’t involve fracking, but opponents say that the chemicals used in the fracking process conducted in other parts of the pipeline system, remain in the gas and are running through the pipelines in this area and could be emitted into the air at a compressor station or from leaks in the pipes.)
There have been no public health studies done to protect communities near compressor stations and there is also no national or state listing of compressor station accidents, she said. There are a few small health surveys. One study, of 35 people living within a mile of a compressor station in New York, reported symptoms of respiratory problems, throat irritation, nose bleeds, headaches and rashes. Another study found that the closer a person lived to a compressor station, the more frequently they reported these symptoms. Children were affected the most, Tenerowicz said. “There have not been long term studies to look at what fracked gas does because it’s a new industry, it’s a new technique,” Racine said. (It should also be noted that there are air quality standards that the gas companies must adhere to in order to protect public health and the environment that require limiting the levels of pollutants released in the air. The Access Northeast website state that the company works with federal and state agencies to ensure that air quality standards are met.)
Before these projects are allowed to go forward, Racine said, there should be a comprehensive health impact assessment. Bills have been proposed in the state legislature dealing with this.