DEM approves permit that requires heightened monitoring for harmful benzene emissions
By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The controversial proposal to expand a natural-gas compressor station in Burrillville cleared one of its final hurdles and construction is expected to begin soon.
On June 3, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued an air-quality permit that allows for the operation of a 15,900-horsepower gas-powered turbine and a 585-horsepower emergency generator. The permit requires heightened monitoring for benzene emissions, a pollutant prominent in natural gas that causes cancer and other ailments, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Benzene, along with methane and low levels of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, are expected to be present in the emissions from the buildout of the Burrillville compressor station. The expansion is one of several projects designed to increase the volume of natural gas through the 1,127-mile Algonquin pipeline and ease winter demand for the fuel used for heating homes and making electricity. Built in 1953, the pipeline delivers natural gas from New Jersey through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The pipeline is owned by Spectra Energy of Houston.
A request by the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to have a review of impacts posed by the pipeline and compressor station was suspended after Spectra explained that the Burrillville project wouldn’t increase pressure in the pipeline, but instead is intended to maintain the existing pressure needed for transmission.
Local residents, environmentalists and climate activists have held several protests against the project, citing concerns about public health and environmental risks posed by the Burrillville project. They warn of fires, explosions, noise pollution, and respiratory, neurological and developmental problems caused by ongoing operations and emissions.
Opponents also object to the pipeline’s principal source of natural gas: the Marcellus Shale gas fields in Pennsylvania, where natural gas is extracted through the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Several protests against the Algonquin pipeline project and other Spectra projects were held this week across southern New England. In Rhode Island, the activist group Fight Against Natural Gas (FANG) held demonstrations at the office of the natural gas-utility National Grid, the Manchester Street natural gas power plant in Providence and at the office of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, a supporter of pipeline expansion.
Activists also held a small protest outside the home of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who supports pipeline expansion. They held actions against Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge project in Fall River and Assonet, Mass.
The Algonquin pipeline expansion is one of several proposed pipeline projects going forward in the region. It’s also one of the most likely to come to fruition, according to may of those who attended a regional energy summit in Hartford, Conn., two months ago.
Construction of a new 417-mile pipeline across Massachusetts, called the Northeast Energy Direct, is facing considerable local opposition and appears less likely to gain approval, industry experts predict.
New England’s six governors support bringing more natural gas into the region, saying such a move will ease demand and reduce winter price spikes. However, they have yet to say how the $1 billion Algonquin project and other pipeline projects would be built without passing on the cost to ratepayers. There also is concern that the influx of natural gas may bypass the region and instead go to export terminals being built in Nova Scotia.
The Algonquin project received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in early March and work is expected to begin on the Burrillville compressor this month.
Tony Affigne of the Green Party of Rhode Island said the permit by DEM was a letdown but not a surprise.
“Both efforts were always long shots, but our state officials’ failure to protect the people and environment of Rhode Island is a great disappointment,” he said.