Residents gear up to oppose Rehoboth natural gas compressor station

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REHOBOTH, Mass. (WPRI) — A group of Rehoboth, Attleboro and Seekonk residents gathered Wednesday night to strategize on the best ways to stop a proposed compressor station in the town that is slated to be built as part of a larger natural gas pipeline running through New England.

The project, called Access Northeast, still has a number of regulatory hurdles to jump. But if the company building it–Spectra Energy–gets the necessary permits, the pipeline would run through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. The compressor station in Rehoboth would be part of that project.

“My family’s health is a huge concern,” said Chris Gauthier, one of the organizers of No Rehoboth Compressor, the group that met at a library Wednesday evening. About 75 people attended the meeting.

Gauthier said the proposed compressor site in Rehoboth is right behind his house, where he also has a horse farm. He’s concerned about noise, which he said he heard “sounds like a jet engine taking off,” and also about the value of his home decreasing.

Plus, he and other residents are concerned about possible well-water contamination and gas emissions.

“There’s a lot of carcinogens that are going to be emitted from this,” Gauthier said. “Some are linked to cancer.”

Spectra Energy disputes many of those concerns, explaining in an email to Eyewitness News that compressor stations are “highly regulated facilities that must meet rigorous safety standards established by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation.” A spokesperson said the compressors are fueled by natural gas and use “low-emission technology.”

The spokesperson said there are hundreds of compressor stations across the U.S., located every 50-70 miles on a natural gas pipeline in order to reduce pressure and slow the flow of gas. The compressor is about the size of a barn.

A fact sheet provided by Spectra Energy also addresses the noise issue, admitting that the compressors can emit a sound similar to a jet engine, but only when the station goes through an emergency shutdown. An emergency shutdown is a “very rare occurrence,” according to the fact sheet.

The group opposing the compressor said its members have sent more than 100 letters to Governor Charlie Baker’s office, and have also contact federal authorities and Congressman Joseph Kennedy III.

A spokesperson for Gov. Baker sent a statement to Eyewitness News that did not address a question about whether Baker supports the pipeline and Rehoboth compressor, but said he favors a “balanced approach” to energy decisions.

“The Baker-Polito Administration will continue its pursuit of a balanced approach to a diversified renewable energy portfolio in order to provide the Commonwealth’s residents and businesses with a cost-effective and reliable clean energy future,” said Peter Lorenz, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Congressman Kennedy has said he’ll form his opinion on the pipeline project after The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission submits its formal Environmental Impact Statement, assessing if the project is in the public’s interest.

“I believe natural gas has a role to play in the diverse energy portfolio our region needs, but that it should only be one piece of our energy puzzle,” Kennedy wrote in a letter posted on the Rehoboth town website dated June 7. “Any proposed pipeline project must be carefully scrutinized and allow for significant and meaningful public input,” he said.

The pipeline project would also need approval from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board. A spokesperson for Spectra Energy said they are in the “very early” stages of permitting, but tentatively plan to have the Rehoboth compressor station up and running in 2019.