Over 150 residents and environmental activists celebrated an important victory on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, as they rallied along Washington St. in West Roxbury to stop the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline, effectively stopping construction for the day.
Informed earlier of the protest plans, the project’s developer, Spectra Energy Corp. of Houston, Texas, notified Boston Police Dept. that it would suspend all construction activity for the day. Over 40 protesters were prepared to risk arrest by blocking construction in a spirit of nonviolent civil disobedience.
“Today is a victory…” said local resident Nancy Wilson. “If the Keystone XL pipeline can be stopped even though much construction had already taken place and billions of dollars spent on that project, then we can certainly feel good about defeating the West Roxbury Lateral. We will return this week to keep up the pressure.”
“We are not opposed to good jobs,” said Chuck Collins, an event organizer. “There are plenty of gas leaks to be fixed in our city. But we don’t need any new fossil fuel infrastructure built in Boston that locks us into decades of unneeded gas when we should be investing in conservation and renewables.”
Answering skeptics as to whether the project can be stopped, West Roxbury resident Paul Horn pointed out that in 1971, then-Governor Sargent called a moratorium on construction of the so-called “Inner Belt” highway that would have slashed through neighborhoods like Cambridge and Jamaica Plain. “Communities united in opposition and applied enough political pressure to stop the project and launch plans for a transit-based solution (the new Orange Line and SW Corridor Park), even though “millions had already been spent on property takings, demolition and engineering,” said Horn.
Background on the issue and the struggle
The WRLP is a new extension of the Algonquin Incremental Market system which originates in Pennsylvania and would carry gas from the Marcellus Shale region of that that state through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It is one of several proposed new pipelines that have sparked opposition in Massachusetts as well as other parts of New England, New York and Pennsylvania.
Opposition to the West Roxbury Lateral grew quickly late last year after it was learned that it would carry highly toxic fracked gas at a pressure (750 psi) normally reserved for pipelines located in rural or far more secluded areas. Of specific concern is that it would terminate in a “metering and regulating” (M&R) station right across from West Roxbury Sand and Gravel, a local quarry with regular blasting that has caused damage to area homes for many years.
Opponents are skeptical of industry assurances of the pipeline’s safety, pointing to Spectra’s spotty safety record around the country, and have called for independent studies. “We don’t think it’s wise to take the word of the developer’s own consultant on health and safety issues,” said local resident Howard Sorett, who pointed out that the Department of Homeland Security has specifically included M&R stations on its list of potential terrorist targets. “You read about gas explosions somewhere almost every day,” said Sorett, “and the devastating 2010 explosion in San Bruno, Calif., involved a pipeline with only one-half the pressure of the West Roxbury Lateral.”
Alerted to these and other dangers by a local gas safety consultant last fall, two local groups, West Roxbury Saves Energy and Stop the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline Coalition, began mobilizing community opposition and enlisting the support of elected officials.
Led by Congressman Stephen Lynch, local politicians including Mayor Walsh, District Councilor O’Malley, State Representative Coppinger and State Senator Mike Rush, soon voiced their opposition to the pipeline but were discouraged by a recent federal court decision that confirmed Spectra’s authority, under powers granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to preempt local review and permitting and proceed with property taking and construction. Robert Kennedy Jr. has called FERC a “rogue agency.”
But opponents stress that their opposition goes well beyond issues of safety. “Contrary to industry claims that this gas is needed as a ‘bridge fuel,’ said local resident and SWRL member Mary Boyle, “particularly for electricity generation during cold winter temperatures, it’s clear from the industry’s own statements that this gas is headed for lucrative overseas markets while consumers will bear the cost of this infrastructure for many years and this fracked gas, with its high methane content, adds to the crisis of climate change. Let’s get National Grid to fix the extensive leaks in the current system – the damaging release of gas for which we are already paying! We’ve got alternatives for those cold winter months – let’s use them and invest more in renewables!”
Watch the rally as captured by WBZ News (Channel 4) with reporter Paul Burton: “Activists protest Spectra Energy pipeline project”
This was the Facebook event page.