Energy

Answers Sought Regarding Explosion and Pipeline Construction in Burrillville

A section of the Algonquin natural gas pipeline is being repaired in Burrillville, R.I. (B.A.S.E.)

The Burrillville, R.I., compressor station has been a difficult neighbor, operating in relative secrecy as it discharges toxic pollutants and occasionally generates window-rattling explosions.

All of these flaws occurred recently, when a parade of construction vehicles and equipment descended on the Enbridge Inc. property off Wallum Lake Road. Soon after, there was an explosion heard and felt by neighbors.

Enbridge, the Calgary-based owner of the compressor station, has been characteristically evasive about the incident and the work being done at the fossil fuel facility. Photos and videos taken by neighbors show excavated portions of the Algonquin pipeline and other construction along a stretch of an access road.

Enbrige wouldn’t describe the work being done nor explain the source of the noise. Spokesperson Max Bergeron noted that, “Algonquin Gas Transmission is conducting routine maintenance work near our Burrillville Compressor Station in Rhode Island, in accordance with applicable regulations.”

Routine maintenance can mean a lot of things. When asked specifically about a leak, Begergeorn would only say “the work is being conducted safely, and there have not been any unexpected safety-related issues.”

The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) authorized nearly $1 billion in upgrades to the Algonquin natural-gas pipeline in March 2015. The order is a blanket certificate that allows Enbridge to build natural-gas infrastructure in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts that meet certain cost criteria. Governors from each state supported the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project, including all of Rhode Island’s members of Congress.

That same year, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued a permit for the installation and operation of a 15,900-horsepower, gas-powered turbine and a 585-horsepower emergency generator. The permit allows the release of benzyne, formaldehyde, and about eight other carcinogens.

A FERC spokesperson said Enbridge’s current work could be small modifications at its existing facilities, but under AIM approval, the company isn’t required to report this information to FERC until the following year in an annual report.

Neither DEM nor the town issued any permits for the work. The state agency is investigating a complaint about the project and has so far been told by Enbridge the facility wasn’t the source of the noise. Burrillville police and town manager Michael Wood received the same answer.

The Pawtucket-based environmental activist group The FANG Collective released a statement describing the sudden arrival of 10 front loaders and other construction equipment followed by the thunderous noise.

“We heard a large explosion sound, a big boom. It shook my house. My neighbors and I all ran outside to see what had happened,” said Kathy Martley, who lives about a half-mile from the compressor station and the Algonquin pipeline that it serves.

As a founder of the grassroots environmental group Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion (B.A.S.E.), Martley has been a leader in opposing the expansion of the compressor station and pipeline, which were built in 1953.

Resident photos and videos show two temporary bridges over a wetland and a stream and a temporary road that stretches for about half a mile.

B.A.S.E. and FANG want Gov. Gina Raimondo to suspend the project and get answers.

“We need the governor to stop Enrbridge’s construction now,” Martley said. “It’s shameful that Enbridge is trying to sneak this project in amid the COVID-19 crisis without obtaining any permits. They need to be held accountable.”

FANG and B.A.S.E. were active in the opposition movement against the proposed Clear River Energy Center, a natural gas/diesel-fueled power plant proposed for Enbridge-owned forestland adjacent to the compressor station.

The nearly 1,000-megawatt facility was rejected by the state’s Energy Facility Siting Board last June. Although environmental factors didn’t weigh in the decision, opponents of the power plant defended the environmental sensitivity of the land and its connection to a multi-state forested wildlife corridor.

Environmental advocate Bill Eccleston, who grew up exploring the outdoors in Burrillville, said he is surprised that the recent intrusion into a highly sensitive environmental area was allowed during spring migration and breeding of wildlife.

Rhode Island’s Wildlife Action Plan designates this portion of the Clear River valley as a conservation-opportunity area because it sits within more than 500 acres of unfragmented forest and contains threatened species of amphibians, birds, fish, and plants. It’s a designated high-value and high-vulnerability habitat that supports flora and fauna that are classified as high concern.

The Nature Conservancy is mapping the area so that it can be protected as a wildlife corridor that facilitates the northward migration of wildlife during global warming.

“Obviously, such habitat is especially vulnerable to construction impacts, meaning that very detailed, very carefully mapped permitting is required from DEM,” Eccleston said.

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  1. This is ridiculous.

    No comment from DEM?

    Who answered the phone?

    How about asking Janet Coit? …After hearing day’s worth of credentialed, expert testimony during the Invenergy hearings last year—most pointedly from The Nature Conservancy’s RI office Associate Director, Scott Comings—about the southern New England regional significance and very high conservation value of this specific swath of wetlands transited by the Enbridge pipeline, and now a construction road a mile long bridging both Dry Arm Brook and Clear River and travelled daily by a brigade of heavy trucks and excavation equipment digging five foot trenches at selected spots to get at the buried pipeline, one would think that Janet Coit, or a designated subordinate, would be able to answer the most pertinent question: Why hasn’t this project been issued a wetlands permit?

    And why, if there’s also a question of an explosion, would DEM have any jurisdiction? Isn’t that the State Fire Marshal’s bailiwick? Or whomever it is who deals with energy infrastructure explosions or failures, like the agency that dealt with the Aquidneck Island gas pipeline failure two winters ago?

    It is just appalling the neglect this incident is receiving from the media.

    Once again, if it happens in Burrillville, it might a well be happening on the Yukon Territory so far as "mainstream" Rhode Island is concerned.

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