A Houston energy company plans to start transmitting gas through a pipeline in densely populated West Roxbury on Thursday, despite two years of protests by neighbors and the continued objections of city officials concerned about public safety.
The news outraged neighbors who fear the pipeline could explode because it travels near an open quarry where dynamite is regularly detonated.
“If that thing is going to blow – and we believe it will blow at a certain point — we’re done,” said Nancy Wilson, who lives about three blocks from the pipeline and has been arrested twice while protesting its construction. “We just assume we will be incinerated because of this.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and other city officials sent letters Monday to federal energy regulators and to the Houston company that owns the pipeline accusing the firm of breaking its promise to share critical safety plans with the Boston police and fire departments.
The commissioners of those departments say that Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp. told them they could see the security plan for a crucial gas transfer station outside the quarry’s entrance on Grove Street as well as a “heat map” that indicates which neighbors would need to be evacuated in the event of a leak. But Spectra representatives have not shared that information with the city, the commissioners contend.
“Without this vital information, Boston police and fire will be unable to assess additional security that may be needed and unable to effectively respond in the case of an emergency,” Police Commissioner William B. Evans and Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn wrote to Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC, a Spectra subsidiary.
Spectra released a statement on Wednesday that noted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week approved the start of gas service in the pipeline and said that transmission is “ready to begin” on Thursday. The five-mile pipeline is part of a larger, $1 billion-project designed to increase the supply of natural gas to New England.
“The West Roxbury Lateral will provide National Grid with additional supplies of clean burning, affordable natural gas for homes, hospitals, businesses, and schools in the city of Boston,” the statement said. “The Algonquin system has operated safely in the region for more than 60 years. The . . . project facilities are designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to meet or exceed federal safety standards and regulations.”
The company said it was reviewing Monday’s letter from Evans and Finn and would respond. Evans said earlier this week during an interview on WGBH radio that city lawyers are considering what other steps they might be able to take to stop the opening of the pipeline.
Walsh already filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year challenging the federal commission’s approval of the project. Oral arguments have not been scheduled in the case.
Walsh said in an interview Wednesday that, unless the court intervenes, there is “virtually zero ability by the city or the state to be able to halt this type of pipeline after it gets approved by the federal government.”
He said, however, he is still hopeful that the pipeline can be relocated.
“If you’re looking for a place in any part of the city of Boston to locate this, the last place I would probably put this is next to a quarry,” Walsh said.
US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, another pipeline opponent, wrote to the commission twice this month, saying that it was reckless for the agency to allow the project to proceed and that it puts countless lives at risk.
He pointed to several recent pipeline disasters, including a Nov. 16 explosion in Canton, Ill., that killed one person and injured 12.
In addition to raising safety concerns, many neighbors also argue the project will delay the region’s long-overdue transition to renewable energy sources.
Neighbors have held frequent demonstrations at the site and tried to block construction of the project over the summer. Twenty-three people, including Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna, were arrested during one demonstration in June.
Mary Boyle, who said she has protested at the pipeline every morning since September 2015, said the start of gas transmission on Thursday would not deter her.
“I’d like to draw tears on my cheeks and stand there in silent grief that they are actually accomplishing this,” she said.
She said other neighbors, too, are determined to continue their protests.
“If the gas can get turned on, it can get turned off,” she said. “It’s not safe for us. We don’t need it. We don’t want it. So we will fight it.”