Federal energy officials gave final approval Wednesday to a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, a decision that drew sharp rebukes from local advocates who say the station will pose health and safety risks to the community.
The Federal Energy Regulator Commission granted Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC’s request to start the construction of the station, which is planned for a four-acre parcel on the banks of the Fore River.
Algonquin is a subsidiary of Enbridge, a $126 billion energy giant, and construction for the Weymouth project is expected to begin in early December, according to a company spokesman. The station will be part of a larger Enbridge project that aims to distribute high pressure gas more than 1,000 miles, from New York to Maine and into the Canadian Maritimes.
Opponents have argued that the Weymouth site, located on a peninsula, is too small, too polluted, and too close to too many dangers to safely accommodate the compressor.
The federal approval follows final state approval for the project earlier this month.
The project has been met with stiff opposition locally.
Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said in a statement that Wednesday’s development was “not unexpected” but it did come “over the objections of all of us, our federal delegation, our state legislators, the Town of Weymouth, our allies, and pretty much everyone you can think of except for Gov. (Charlie) Baker.”
The group ripped FERC as “an agency that has always been in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, but now they are just allowing the gas companies to do whatever they want without proving need for the gas.”
Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron, meanwhile, said the company was pleased with the commission’s decision.
“Algonquin Gas Transmission. . . remains committed to ensuring construction activities are conducted in compliance with all applicable requirements, with public health and safety as our priority,” he said in a statement.
US Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, took to Twitter to criticize the project on Wednesday, saying a “Canadian company is rushing to build a natural gas compressor station in the middle of a MA neighborhood, just so it can export gas overseas. Weymouth shouldn’t be put at risk for foreign fossil fuel profits.”
In a statement, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who is challenging Markey for the Democratic nomination for the US Senate next year, said that FERC, “has ignored the health and voices of the community affected, environmental studies, dangerous public safety warnings, and even corporate interests who say this project is no longer necessary.”
A spokeswoman for Representative Stephen Lynch, whose district includes Weymouth, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
Weymouth Mayor Robert L. Hedlund on Wednesday requested that state environmental authorities review Algonquin’s “release abatement measure plan” that allows the company to build the station on a hazardous waste site. He said the company has claimed arsenic levels in the soil of the site “will not pose a significant risk to nearby residents,” visitors, or construction workers.
In a letter to a regional director of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Hedlund pushed for that department to tell the company it cannot go forward with the plan without the agency’s approval. Such a move would “protect the health and safety of Weymouth residents and site workers,” he said.
Dr. Philip Landrigan, who directs a global public health program at Boston College, said that Wednesday’s decision “flies in the face of the fact” that the project has the potential to create “a whole host of health and safety issues.”
Referencing the gas explosions that tore through the Merrimack Valley last year, he said the compressor station will bring with it the risk of fire and explosions. He added that the station will leak benzene and formaldehyde, both of which can cause cancer, into the air during the course of its daily operations.
“Putting this facility in a low-income, 45-percent minority community which has said repeatedly they don’t want this in their backyard, there’s a fundamental injustice about that,” he said.
Enbridge has claimed that the Weymouth station does not pose significant hazards.
Earlier this month, Markey and Senator Elizabeth Warren, another Massachusetts Democrat, called on FERC to reject the request to proceed on the station’s construction and to reopen the decision to approve the project. The lawmakers said the site for the compressor station is within a half-mile of more than 960 homes and 38 “educational facilities.” Markey and Warren, in a joint Nov. 20 letter to the FERC chairman, said “the construction and operation of this facility would cause significant residual adverse effects on the Weymouth community.”
According to Markey and Warren, utility giants National Grid and Eversource have publicly stated “that they do not need the Weymouth compressor to fulfill customer needs, calling into question it is appropriate to still deem its construction necessary.”