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Federal regulators to consider whether to shut down Weymouth gas compressor

The compressor station has been a source of controversy in Weymouth.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

After a succession of unplanned shutdowns and emergency gas releases at a controversial compressor station in Weymouth, federal regulators next week will consider whether to revoke its authorization to continue operating.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, after months of deadlock, this week scheduled the hearing on the compressor for next Thursday. A year ago, the commission ruled it had previously improperly denied hearing from neighbors and environmental advocates who have long opposed the $100 million compressor. Opponents have long said it presents health and safety risks to the densely populated Fore River Basin.

But the new hearing had been delayed for much of the past year as a result of a political deadlock, with Democrats citing concerns about its safety and environmental impact and Republicans citing the need to maintain the reliability of the energy system.

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In November, a new Democratic appointee joined the commission, giving Democrats a majority of the five seats. That has offered a glimmer of hope to the compressor station’s opponents that the panel might this time vote to shut it down.

“We are hopeful that FERC will take the time to consider not just the horrible siting of this facility, but also the consequences for climate change and the environmental justice neighborhoods,” said Alice Arena, president of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station. “We hope they take the long view and question whether the station is necessary, at a time when we need to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Officials at FERC declined to comment.

At a hearing held online last year, commissioner Richard Glick, now FERC’s chairman, said the agency should look more closely at the impact the station has had on low-income residents who live nearby and “do more than give lip service to environmental justice.”

“That needs to change,” he said.

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In a post on Twitter soon afterward, Glick added that the station “raises serious environmental justice questions, which we need to examine. The communities surrounding the project are regularly subjected to high levels of pollution & residents are concerned emissions from the station will make things worse.”

At the time, another Democratic appointee, Allison Clements, said FERC should “carefully consider how to address health and safety concerns.” The commissioners serve five-year, staggered terms, and no more than three of the five may be from the same party as the president.

In May, Glick, a Democrat who was appointed during Donald Trump’s presidency, released a statement deriding Republicans for delaying the hearing and said the commission had an obligation to look at safety concerns at the station, which has experienced four unplanned shutdowns less than a year after it began operating in the fall of 2020.

“If we were presented with information, after a project receives a certificate, but before it is placed in service, that the project is located on top of an active fault line, should we just ignore that fact and just tell the project developer to place the project in service — no questions asked?” he said. “Of course not!”

He added: “We are talking about an area that includes two environmental justice communities and where local residents already have a higher incidence of cancer, asthma, heart disease, and other maladies. So when people in the community hear that the project . . . released methane and other pollutants into the air that they breathe . . . why do we not care about those citizens and their fears?”

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The 7,700-horsepower compressor was built by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline giant, as part of its $600 million Atlantic Bridge project. The compressor, the subject of a Globe investigation in 2020, can pump 57.5 million cubic feet of gas a day from Weymouth to Maine and Canada.

When asked about the commission’s hearing scheduled for next week, Max Bergeron, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the station has already been “extensively and thoroughly reviewed” by FERC and other agencies “as part of a transparent and inclusive multiyear public permitting process, which resulted in the project meeting all applicable standards and receiving all necessary approvals to proceed.”

“We remain committed to continuing to operate the compressor station safely and responsibly,” he said.

Enbridge originally planned to begin operations in 2017, nearly three years after the station was proposed. While it was delayed as a result of vocal opposition, it ultimately won crucial federal approvals and state permits.

The Weymouth station has been a source of conflict at FERC for years, but especially over the past year.

Last year, as the commissioners debated whether to approve an order to hear complaints from opponents, the Republican commissioners argued that such additional testimony — after the station was granted approval to operate — violated the law.

“Intended or not, the message from this order is clear: even if a pipeline has its certificate, a court upholds that certificate, and that pipeline is in compliance, the commission can now find a way to modify, or even possibly revoke, the certificate,” wrote James Danly, who was appointed by Trump, in a dissenting opinion.

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Mark Christie, also appointed by Trump, added in a separate opinion: “Today’s capricious action violates the most basic standards of regulatory due process and regulatory finality, both of which are absolutely necessary.”

The fate of the compressor station may now come down to FERC’s newest commissioner, Willie Phillips, who joined the agency over the fall. He was appointed by President Biden.

He could not be reached for comment.

Senator Edward Markey said he was grateful the commissioners planned to reconsider their authorization of the station.

“The Weymouth compressor station is a clear threat to our communities and the environment and does nothing to address energy reliability in Massachusetts,” he said in a statement. “I am pleased that FERC has finally heeded my repeated calls to revisit the unwarranted approval of this dangerous project.”


David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.