Arguments against the WRL Pipeline

The following points by Dr. Karen L. Weber were sent to Sen. Warren’s office on Dec. 20.


1. The proposal by Spectra, as part of the Algonquin Incremental Market Pipeline, is to place a high-pressure fracked gas pipeline at the level of 750 psi in a densely populated residential neighborhood in West Roxbury, part of the City of Boston with a Metering & Regulation Station (M&R station) to connect this line to a lower pressure pipeline of 100 psi directly across (feet away) from an active quarry where earthquake like blasts occur several times a week.

2. Industry expert Mark McDonald, who travels across the US regularly to consult on pipeline safety, cannot understand why this line is proposed for this location. It is a transmission pipeline that is usually destined for uninhabited areas – under forests, deserts, etc. Because it is a transmission pipeline, the gas has no odorant. If someone were to dig and not know quite where the line was, they could damage the line, and there would be no smell to the gas indicating that there was a leak or problems with the line. You can see more from Mark’s PowerPoint presentation on his website.

3.The M&R station is a place of impending disaster. According to Mark, with less than a turn of a wrench, the station could explode due to the potential of the pressure of one pipeline leading into the other. If the wind were blowing the “wrong way,” this could lead to an explosion which could affect – in the worst case scenario – up to 40 city blocks. The location of this pipeline is only five miles away from the center of the City of Boston. It would be felt across the city. Four schools are on this pipeline route. One senior home. Hundreds of homes. Thousands of people.

4. The potential of a terrorist attack on the M&R station: It is easy to figure out how to commit such an attack from YouTube. However, it doesn’t need to go that far – teens playing around the area drinking beer and being rowdy could do it. The regular blasts from the quarry could cause it. The heavy traffic from the 300 dump trucks that go in and out of the quarry on a daily basis and cause a lot of vibration to the ground could cause it.

5. Once in, there will be a constant whooshing sound that the neighborhood will be subject to – a noise pollution more constant than living near an airport and hearing the planes take off. There will be no dig rights on people’s properties anywhere from 25-50 feet from the line. (Once the grant of easement is signed, Spectra Energy obtains access to the “right of way,” the corridor in which the pipeline is to be built. Typically, Spectra Energy will require a 50-foot-wide permanent right of way. Refer to Spectra’s website under “New Projects”.) This means that people will not be able to plant a tree, flowers, put up a shed, put in a pool, etc. Property values will plummet.

6. The people who live in this neighborhood are middle-class working citizens who are the police, firefighters, city employees, university employees, builders, nurses, caretakers and more in our city. They are scared out of their minds. They are scared for their children. Many have lived in their homes for generations. Others are new to the city or the area and proud to be in a nice community where they thought it was safe and could watch their kids grow up. Some moved recently from other parts of the city thinking this would give them access to better schools in the area.

7. The neighborhood is not that far from the main business district of West Roxbury where there are numerous banks, dentists and doctor offices, supermarkets, restaurants and shops.

8. This project is volatile from the outset and has no reason for even being considered. Worse yet, Spectra Energy has a horrific track record:

  • “Unlawful Conduct” – The Pennsylvania DEP has issued two Notices of Violation for the company’s “unlawful conduct.”
  • Fiery inferno – Spectra Energy’s underground gas storage reservoir outside of Houston (Moss Bluff) suffered catastrophic failure in 2004 with two explosions, 6 days of fire with flames as high as 1,000 feet and two evacuations. The company does not want to talk about it. The project manager at FERC told me they were not aware of this when they approved Spectra Energy’s proposal for the storage reservoir in Bedford County.
  • PCB Contamination – Spectra Energy acknowledges in its Form 10-K (filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Feb. 27, 2009) that, “some of our pipeline systems are contaminated with [toxic] PCBs.” The EPA has concluded that PCBs cause cancer in animals and are a probable human carcinogen.
  • Top Civil Penalty Ranking – Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern pipeline division is tied for #7 on the EPA’s list of the 21 “Top Civil Penalty Cases of All Time” – the National Enforcement Trends (NETs) document which is on the EPA website. The $15 million penalty was for massive PCB contamination along the company’s 9,000-mile pipeline.

If you take the time to read through the Shale Property Rights blog, you will see CEO of Exxon Mobil Rex Tillerson filing suit about a water tower near his home. I cannot imagine that he would ever want to live in the WRL neighborhood of West Roxbury. I do not think Senator Warren is ready to take up residence there either, no matter how pretty it currently appears nor how safe it is at the moment.

9. This pipeline involves new technology and fast transmission of natural gas at high pressures. There is not enough experience with these pipelines to really know how long they will last, how easy it will be for them to break down. Is it one year, two years, ten years? There are little sweeping mechanisms inside the pipes to help push the gas through. There is more involvement of digital technology, with many parts and systems to track, and that can unravel. In sum, we do not know the true ROI on these pipelines and what could cause problems or lead to a break in the line. When gas leaks from this line, due to the fact that it is fracked gas, it contains radiation along with a large number of toxic chemicals that will contaminate the atmosphere including PCBs, methane, toluene, benzene, etc. Any health study done must also take into account these potential impacts.

10. Gleaned from the meeting with aides from the staff of Senators Warren and Markey: When we asked where the senators stood on the project, they claimed that they did not have enough information and asked for info from us. They had been to the proposed site, but had no comment about that experience. We are lay-people and do not have statistical answers. However, we have the resources of Mr. Mark McDonald, the experience of residents living with regular blasts from the quarry, and the understanding when looking at this project that it lacks fundamental common sense on all levels. We asked to establish a timetable given the urgency of the FERC process.

Finally, putting the whole pipeline into perspective: The state of Massachusetts bans fracking. It is hard to understand how it could condone the transit or use of fracked gas if it is opposed to fracking on our own soil. The pipeline itself is very much a mystery. The intricate link of money, power, greed and energy is tied into the larger picture which is the unraveling of these companies due to record low petroleum prices, causing the fracking operations to try to make good on their billion-dollar investments. Beyond the nightmarish portrait of what West Roxbury would face if the WRL were to be realized, there is a far greater nightmare unraveling across the US around fracking, pipelines and a race for energy that will take away Americans’ health, dignity and clean water when instead the investments could be made in truly clean energy, efficiency, plugging up gas leaks so we would not be losing so much of our energy resources and finding healthy safe ways of managing our cities and economy.

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