Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
REHOBOTH, Mass. — Opponents of a proposed natural-gas pipeline compressor station are growing in numbers as they gear up for a lengthy fight with a large Texas-based energy company.
Some 100 residents from the Massachusetts communities of Rehoboth, Attleboro and Seekonk, and the city of Pawtucket, R.I., packed the auditorium at the Blanding Library on Nov. 30 for a public meeting. All live within a short distance of the 120-acre project site in northwest Rehoboth.
“The quality of life of everyone that lives around this compressor station is going to be drastically hindered,” said Chris Gauthier, whose horse farm abuts the wooded site targeted for the compressor station.
Gauthier is one of three residents, all with young families, leading the opposition movement. Each told the audience they will use every fiber of their being to fight Spectra Energy, the developer of the compressor station and the owner of the 1,1,00-mile Algonquin pipeline that runs through town on its way from New Jersey to Everett, Mass.
“This is not something I thought I’d ever find myself in the middle of. And now I’m in with both feet because I don’t want the toxins to affect my children,” Kelly Ann Erskine said during a recent conference call to help opponents of the proposed compressor station.
She said that up until three months ago the hardest thing she had to do was make heart-shaped pancakes for her children. Now, she’s reading 600-page reports about previous pipeline projects while forming a new worldview.
“It changed my thoughts on the government, on the way I look at the flag," Erskine said.
Their movement has organized as Citizens Against the Rehoboth Compressor Station (CARCS), with a website and Facebook page. They say they have 1,300 supporters, with active volunteers running research and planning teams.
They are employing their analytical and management skills from their careers to stall and confound the energy giant. “I’m the kind of person that looks at risk-reward with everything I do,” Gauthier said. “We’re not getting any financial benefit while we’re taking on all the risk on this.”
The risks include noise, toxic emissions, water pollution, fires and explosions. “To have this behemoth come in here and just start polluting the air, to me goes against everything Rehoboth stands for," Gauthier said. "But it’s not just Rehoboth, because where this is, it’s right where Attleboro, Seekonk and Rehoboth meet.”
Gauthier said he recently walked outside the compressor station in Burrillville, R.I. He compared the noise to sitting inside an airplane. It hurt his ears and made his young stepdaughter cry.
“The low-frequency noise in horrendous,” he said.
CARCS is raising arguments against the pipeline expansion that have yet to resonate with much of the public. It includes a report commissioned by Attorney General Maura Healey that found that an influx of natural gas that isn't needed in Massachusetts, especially as energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs expand and thereby reduce demand for natural gas.
Local pipeline projects, however, are aimed at enriching the natural-gas industry, which wants to pump the fuel through the region to export terminals in the Canadian Maritime provinces, as opined by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.
Markey also commissioned a federal study showing that gas leaks cost Massachusetts ratepayers $1.5 billion between 2000 and 2011. A 2015 study found that Massachusetts has more than 20,000 leaks in its natural-gas network — a problem that contributes to global warming and reduces the gas supply.
CARCS realizes it's fighting an uphill battle. Federal regulations exempt pipeline companies such as Spectra from adhering to local bylaws and zoning ordinances. Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees fossil-fuel projects, has a reputation for rubber-stamping industry proposals. Federal laws also allow pipeline companies to take land through eminent domain, preventing private-property owners from halting projects.
Opposition against Spectra Energy's 26 Algonquin pipeline projects has arisen in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, with few succeeding in stopping construction. Protests have failed to halt the expansion of a massive compressor station in Burrillville. Activists also failed to prevent construction of Spectra’s West Roxbury Lateral pipeline.
CARCS members said they are taking their lead from the opposition effort in Weymouth that has, through litigation, slowed a proposed compressor project.
“I feel like they’ve got a good fighting chance on this,” Erskine said. “Towns have fought and won.”
Money is needed to pay attorneys and write reports. The opposition has earned support from the Rehoboth Board of Selectmen and Attleboro Mayor Kevin Dumas.
“Our goal and the group’s goal needs to be harnessing all of the town’s energy in this room," Gauthier said at the recent meeting. "I keep thinking David versus Goliath here. We’re fighting a very big company. We’re fighting something that’s federally regulated. We don’t have a binding vote on it. So to rise up and beat this thing we have a strategy in mind.”
The Rehoboth project is in the pre-filing stage with FERC and is on track for completion by 2019.