Residents of West Roxbury say they fear a proposed high-pressure natural gas pipeline could put their densely populated neighborhood at risk of a deadly explosion.
“I’ve seen some pretty horrific things,” NatGas Consulting President Mark McDonald, a nationally recognized natural gas safety expert who lives in West Roxbury, told a crowd of about 100 concerned citizens at a community meeting Wednesday night at the Irish Social Club.
The West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline is a five-mile spur off a larger project called the Algonquin Incremental Market Project, which covers four states and will be coming from Westwood through Dedham and into West Roxbury in November 2016. According to the proposal, its metering and regulation station would be located in an area of residential homes and adjacent to an active stone quarry on Grove Street that engages in significant and ongoing blasting activity.
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McDonald authored the Massachusetts Natural Gas Leak Safety Act, passed in 2014 which mandates the repair of the thousands of gas pipeline leaks that exist throughout the Commonwealth.
"The devastation would more than double what happened in San Bruno," said McDonald of a potential explosion. "This just doesn’t belong here. The risks are pretty significant. Almost every single gas explosion I've looked at was preventable. They happen. It's a matter of fact."
McDonald said Spectra Energy Partners, the Texas company spearheading the 750-pound pipeline, has not been forthcoming about the risks involved.
But according to Marylee Hanley, Spectra's Director of Stakeholder Outreach, the company began communicating with local stakeholders about the project in 2012.
When asked about safety concerns, Hanley said the company has been operating pipelines safely for more than 60 years.
The new pipeline is necessary, Hanley said, due to consumer demand.
"More than 60 percent of electricity generated in New England is generated through natural gas," she said. "[The pipeline] will bring diverse and significant domestic natural gas supplies to the New England region."
Chris Knittel, professor of energy economics at MIT, notes the backlash seems to have a “not in my backyard,” element to it.
“Pipelines in general, especially new pipelines, are very safe,” said Knittel. "Of course nobody likes digging of any kind in their neighborhood. I’m sure everyone would prefer a pipeline be somewhere else rather than in their neighborhood,” he said.
In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the government agency that monitors such initiatives, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh asked that the project be reevaluated and more thoroughly examined. He also asked that the route be altered to ensure the “reasonable protections” of West Roxbury and surrounding towns.
According to FERC spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen, safety concerns will be addressed in the final environmental impact statement, which is still pending before the commission.
In the meantime, West Roxbury activists said they plan to organize action groups to create a petition drive and conduct door-to-door canvassing. They are also planning vigils and demonstrations.