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Controversial Weymouth Compressor Station shuts down — again — renewing calls for its demise

The gas pipeline compressor station in Weymouth.
The gas pipeline compressor station in Weymouth.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

For the fourth time in less than a year, a controversial Weymouth gas compressor station is shut down, bringing yet more scrutiny to a site federal regulators are already reexamining.

A spokesman for Enbridge, which operates the facility, said Friday the company was performing maintenance work on a piece of equipment that helps reduce compressor unit emissions, a process that required the station to be offline. In a notice Thursday evening, the company announced an “outage” at the site and declared a “force majeure,” a legal term typically defined as an “act of God” that a company could not predict or control, as WBUR first reported.

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“We anticipate safely returning the compressor station to service shortly, as soon as the maintenance work is complete,” said the spokesman, Max Bergeron. Asked what the “force majeure” event was, Bergeron cited only the maintenance work.

Bergeron said there was “minimal venting” of gas as a result of the maintenance. The company is required to disclose when it spews more than 10,000 standard cubic feet of gas; Bergeron said the amount released was “well below” that threshold.

State environmental officials said Enbridge had merely extended a “normal maintenance shutdown” while waiting for a replacement part to be delivered.

The shutdown brought fresh attention to a site that has already earned the ire of a number of prominent Massachusetts politicians, as well as local environmental activists. And it comes at a perilous moment for the company, after federal regulators said they would take a rare second look at the site’s community impact and safety protocols.

“No one in the surrounding community should have any confidence that this facility can operate in close quarters with schools and homes,” Senator Ed Markey said in a statement Friday. The most recent shutdown “is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever,” he said, urging federal regulators to shut down the station while they address the root of the problem.

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Compressor stations are placed along gas pipelines to boost pressure and help the gas travel long distances. The Weymouth site was designed to usher gas through New England for distribution in Maine and Canada.

The site has long faced opposition from local politicians and activists, who say it brings needless risk to a densely populated South Shore neighborhood. But that has only escalated after a series of incidents over the last year.

The site unexpectedly released gas twice in September 2020, totaling hundreds of thousands of standard cubic feet of gas. Regulators authorized the station to resume operations in January after a temporary shut down.

Then, just months after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced plans to reexamine the facility’s safety protocols, the site released more gas in April.

Alice Arena, head of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has protested the Weymouth site for years, said “this is just another example of why this should be shut down completely.”

“These facilities are not safe anyway,” Arena said. “But now you’ve put it in a very sensitive and dangerous location, and proven you can’t operate it.”

Markey and Senator Elizabeth Warren have introduced a bill, the COMPRESSOR Act, which would ban the Weymouth station from operating and block new stations from coming online for pipeline projects. A number of other Massachusetts politicians have said the site should be shuttered immediately.

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Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.