The energy company behind the West Roxbury Pipeline in Boston announced on Thursday that the system would begin operating, while opponents vowed to keep fighting to have it removed, saying it poses major health risks to the surrounding area.
Nancy Wilson, a West Roxbury resident who has been a vocal critic of the project since plans for it were announced in 2014, is still hoping the pipeline will be shut down. She said the line will operate at a higher pressure than others — making it calamitous if it were to explode — and because it was placed about 100 feet from a quarry where dynamite is often used.
“This is a clear case of profits over people,” she said Thursday. “We are simply collateral damage. We are disposable — that is the attitude of this company.”
The West Roxbury pipeline is a five-mile-long project by Houston-based Spectra Energy, and is part of a larger aim to increase the natural gas supply in New England.
Protesters have voiced their opposition for the last two years and as recently as Monday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other officials sent letters to Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Spectra, to air concerns about potential safety hazards.
Seeking to quell concerns, Spectra said that the Algonquin system, which travels through New England, New York and New Jersey, “has operated safely in the region for more than 60 years.”
“The AIM [Algonquin Incremental Market] Project facilities are designed, constructed, operated and maintained to meet or exceed federal safety standards and regulations,” Spectra said.
But in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Mayor Walsh said that city officials did not receive what is known as a "heat release map" for the pipeline despite requests. That map “is essential for evacuation planning in the case of an emergency,” the mayor said.
In a letter signed by Boston's police and fire commissioners, authorities say Spectra failed to notify BPD and BFD about important safety information ahead of the start of the pipeline’s operation.
“Specifically, Spectra employee Joseph Bruno had originally informed Boston Police Capt. Steven McLaughlin that Spectra would share the security plan for the Grove Street meter station with Boston Police and Fire,” the letter reads. “Subsequently, on Thursday, Nov. 17, Mr. Bruno informed Captain McLaughlin that Spectra would not be sharing the security plan and that such information is not public.”
Both departments were invited to a “walk through” of the facility the week of Dec. 5, the letter notes, which is after the Dec. 1 date announced by Spectra that gas transmission into the pipeline is ready to begin.
“So any subsequent walk-through will not allow for the City’s public safety agency to provide feedback, or additional resources if needed, to maintain the area around the pipeline and the safety of the public,” wrote Police Commissioner William Evans and Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn.
A spokesperson for the U.S. National Grid, which regulates the nation's complex tangle of gas pipelines, said on Thursday they could “confirm that we are still preparing to receive gas from Spectra. Though we do not have an exact date for when National Grid will begin taking service, we are currently working to ensure the supply is available to our customers before the first cold snap, when natural gas demand is highest.”
As of late Thursday, it was unclear whether the pipeline began operating.
Three schools and a nursing home, along with about 1,500 residents would be directly affected by a serious explosion. Since construction began, protesters have taken to the West Roxbury streets every morning — six days a week — and Wilson said they aren't slowing down now.
“We’re not going to stop,” she said. “We’re going to take this fight to every single front we possibly can until this thing shuts down.”