The energy company Enbridge will pause its planned start of operations at its natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts, after the facility required two emergency shutdowns in the past three weeks, imposing a delay that surprised its critics.
A spokesperson for Enbridge, which built the facility as part of its Atlantic Bridge pipeline, said Thursday that the station will not yet be placed into service despite receiving final federal approval one week ago.
On Wednesday, the station's emergency shutdown system automatically triggered, venting an unspecified amount of natural gas into the air near a densely populated community.
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"Following the activation of the Emergency Shutdown (ESD) System at the Weymouth Compressor Station on September 30, 2020, we have decided to temporarily pause the commencement of operations of the station to ensure we can complete a thorough review and be certain the facility is fully ready for service before proceeding," spokesperson Max Bergeron wrote in an email. "Safety will always be our top priority."
Bergeron declined to say how much gas was vented or what caused the automatic shutdown, saying the company is "gathering additional information," but Enbridge is legally required to notify authorities of any unplanned release surpassing 10,000 cubic feet.
It was the second incident at the station this month, following a gasket failure on Sept. 11 that prompted crews to deploy the emergency shutdown system and release up to 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas.
Less than two weeks after that shutdown, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Enbridge approval to begin service at the station by Oct. 1.
The compressor is designed to play a key role in the company's larger pipeline, helping pump gas northward to utility companies in Maine and Canada.
The project received all of its state and federal permits, despite years of intense opposition from local leaders and community groups who warn that it poses environmental, safety and health threats to the area.
Congressman Stephen Lynch urged FERC to revoke authorization for service at the site following Wednesday's shutdown, and he plans to conduct a walk-through of the site this week. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey appealed to Enbridge directly, asking the company to press pause after the first incident.
Those lawmakers played a role in securing the delay, according to Alice Arena, a leader of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has been fighting the company for years.
Arena said in a statement that her group was "surprised" that Enbridge complied with requests to postpone operations until a safety review is complete, but added that "it is only being done because of great public scrutiny."
"We have said for almost six years that this facility was unsafe," Arena said. "And Enbridge's poor safety record speaks for itself. We hope this is the beginning of the end of this ill conceived project."
FRRACS members had planned a "stand-out" to protest the official first day of operations at the site on Thursday, and the group's members said they are doing ahead with their plans.