Locals protest latest proposed gas pipeline expansion in Burrillville

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NRI NOW photo by Sandy Hall

BURRILLVILLE – For those in town opposed to the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, the battle seems endless.

First, there was the proposal to expand pipeline capacity of the Algonquin Gas Transmission system in 2017, which was ultimately suspended following extensive protests.

Then there was the attempt by Chicago-based energy developer Invenergy Thermal to build a 1,000-megawatt gas-burning power plant off of Wallum Lake Road. That project was rejected by state regulators in 2019 after four years of vocal opposition from a coalition of environmental advocates, government officials and town residents hoping to protect their quality of life.

Now, Burrillville BASE, an organization that first came together to raise awareness of the energy project in 2017, is back on the streets protesting the latest proposal to expand the local fracked gas infrastructure.

Canadian energy company Enbridge once again has plans to expand the Algonquin Gas Transmission line, a 1,100 mile-long pipeline system that runs from New Jersey through parts of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. While details remain hazy, the proposed upgrades would include replacement of existing underground pipes with larger ones, running secondary pipe lines alongside existing ones and expanding compressor stations along the route, according to reports.

“It’s pretty vague at this point,” explained Kathy Martley, leader of Burrillville BASE. “There’s not much information out there. We want answers.”

Dubbed, “Project Maple,” according to Enbridge, the plan would reportedly stabilize gas prices, increase electric reliability and “[support] New England’s continued journey to Net Zero,” by displacing oil use in the region on cold days.

Protests have begun in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and this week, Burrillville opponents joined the fray, a group of well-organized – if discouraged – activists lobbying for an end to fossil fuel dependence.

“It’s just disheartening,” said Nick Katkevich of BASE. “There’s a legacy of resistance.”

Holding signs that read, “End Enbridge,” and, “No pipeline expanse,” the group gathered this week by Enbridge’s compressor station off of Wallum Lake Road.

“People have been fighting it all along the line,” Martley said of the proposal. “If it’s like the other project that was cancelled, it will involve expansion of all of their compressor stations.”

Martley, who lives on an 8 plus-acre property nearby, said the company’s current operations already impact her family’s quality of life.

“It’s noisy,” she said. “The blowdowns are ridiculous.”

Used to release build up of high pressure gasses in a compressor, the blowdown process, Martley notes, is not only loud – it’s also dangerous as methane is released into the atmosphere. According to KB Delta, a maker of compressor valve parts, on average, a single compressor blowdown releases about 15,000 standard cubic feet of gas.

Martley says she’s asked both Enbridge and the town to send out some type of alert when the blowdowns are scheduled to happen, but it hasn’t happened. She notes that recently, her daughter and a friend were camping on her property and came running back in a panic after what they said was a loud explosion.

Asked to respond to residents who say the company’s current operations are noisy and disruptive, Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron said, “Our team works hard to support safe and responsible operations in collaboration with our neighbors in the communities where we live and work.”

Bergeron said that through Project Maple, Enbridge is, “offering customers the opportunity to increase capacity on our Algonquin Gas Transmission system to meet growing demand in the region from gas utilities as well as for power generation.”

He noted that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has held technical conferences which have highlighted power grid reliability concerns in the region.

“Project Maple is one solution which seeks to meet the need for reliable access to fuel for power generation, in addition to supporting growing demand from gas utilities,” Bergeron said.

Ian McDonald, a Connecticut resident involved in protests in the neighboring state who joined the Burrillville opponents this week, questioned need for expansion, pointing to a recent study by Electric Power Research Institute, which he said shows it is not needed.

Besides, McDonald said, “We should be getting away from fossil fuels.”

The opponents say the latest effort is a just a repeat of the 2017 project, which the company, then known as Spectra, abandoned due in part, to their efforts. Bergeron did not respond to questions regarding how Project Maple differs from the company’s previous expansion effort. The spokesman was also not able to provide details regarding potential impacts at the Burrillville facility.

“We are very early in the process, and plan to finalize the project scope and schedule based on our customers’ specific needs and will follow FERC’s process,” he said.

According to a write-up on the project provided to NRI NOW, “Algonquin anticipates that Project Maple will have a target in-service date as early as November 2029.”

“Project scope will be comprised of a combination of replacing existing smaller diameter pipe with larger diameter pipe, extending pipeline loops in parallel to existing pipeline facilities, and adding compression at existing compressor stations, depending on subscribed volumes,” the document notes.”With most of the construction expected to occur within or adjacent to existing rights-of-way and at company-owned facilities, Project Maple can be developed with minimal impacts to landowners, local communities, and the environment.”

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