Natural-Gas Compressor Station Planned for Rehoboth

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

REHOBOTH, Mass. — A rural town much like Burrillville, R.I., and half the distance from Providence is being asked to host a natural-gas compressor station.

Houston-based Spectra Energy, the same company that owns the compressor station on Wallum Lake Road in northwest Rhode Island, plans to build a new compressor station here. The natural-gas pipeline facility will be built in a 120-acre wooded site close to Seekonk and Attleboro and about 10 miles from downtown Providence..

The facility is part of 26 proposed projects between New York and Boston along the Algonquin natural-gas pipeline, which is owned by Spectra. These projects include a build-out of a Burrillville facility and construction of North America’s largest liquefied natural gas storage facility in Acushnet. The Access Northeast project, in partnership with National Grid and Eversource Energy, includes new natural-gas pipeline in 22 Massachusetts cities and towns and the expansion of a new compressor station in Weymouth.

All of these projects are part of one application submitted to the Federal Energy Regulator Commission (FERC). A pre-filing application was completed in November 2015, and public hearings have been held in all of the communities. If approved, construction is expected to begin in 2018. The Rehoboth compressor station doesn't require town approval, only a wetlands permit, if needed.

Critics of the projects, such as the group No Compressor Station, suspect that all of this natural-gas infrastructure build-out is intended to supply export terminals that ship natural gas to international markets.

The Rehoboth compressor station will use a 10,320-horsepower compressor engine powered by natural gas. The facility will run 24 hours a day and emit a noise level of 55 decibels, which Spectra describes as sounding like rushing water if standing at the entrance gate to the facility.

The opposition group BC Cares-Citizens Against the Compressor Station is raising awareness about harmful emissions from the compressor station, such as benzene, formaldehyde and nitrogen oxide — all of which are linked to asthma, cancer and other respiratory and neurologic disorders.

There also are concerns about impacts on well water, the primary source of drinking water in Rehoboth. Crop and farm animal impacts are also causing unease.

Critics also point to the fact that the projects will likely be funded through a new proposed surcharge on electricity bills.

Spectra, however, says natural gas is less polluting than oil- and coal-generated electricity. Although 49 percent of New England’s power is fueled by natural gas, Spectra says the existing infrastructure is inadequate to meet peak demand in the winter. The projects also will stabilize electricity rates and save the region billions of dollars in energy costs, according to the Texas company.

In a recent letter, U.S. Rep. P. Joseph Kennedy III, a Democrat who represents Rehoboth and portions of Bristol County, offered a “let-the-process-play-out” stance on the Access Northeast series of natural-gas projects.