Phyllis Theermann
[Image courtesy of Dr. Nathan Phillips, using Google Earth]
Image: This image is a graphic representation of methane readings taken on August 18, 2019, in the vicinity of a gas release near 68 Walnut Street in Wellesley and Quinobequin Road in Newton.

During August, Wellesley experienced not one, but two gas “blowdowns” during which gas was vented from an interstate pipeline that runs along the eastern edge of town. 

What happened?

On August 18th and 27th, Enbridge vented gas from roughly three and a half miles of its Algonquin pipeline into the atmosphere from its valve station near 68 Walnut Street in Wellesley and Quinobequin Road in Newton. This valve site has apparently been used for gas releases in the past, including last October.

What is natural gas?

The main component of natural gas is methane. Methane is a major contributor to climate change. It is about 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. It is also extremely flammable and is a harmful air pollutant. Natural gas contains other chemicals aside from methane, including respiratory toxins and cancer-causing compounds.

How much gas was vented?

Enbridge did not provide the Town with any information about how much gas was vented. However, Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips, Dr. Curt Nordgaard (a pediatrician and environmental health expert), and Bob Ackley (Gas Safety USA) collected methane readings during and after the blowdown using a car-mounted methane analyzer. They estimated that the volume of gas released during the first blowdown was equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of as many as 439 US cars.  The gas plume was detected on residential streets in Newton and Wellesley, and throughout the grounds of the Newton-Wellesley Hospital. 

Why is Sustainable Wellesley concerned?

Sustainable Wellesley is concerned about the impact of this blowdown on our local environment and on our neighbors in Wellesley because breathing air polluted with the components of natural gas is hazardous to human health. The organization is also concerned by Enbridge’s poor communication about this blowdown. The Town was notified of this event, but no Massachusetts state agency (to our knowledge) was informed or was otherwise made aware of the 2-week-long scheduled blowdown period. 

According to emails from Enbridge to the City of Newton, the reason for the blowdown was to address “various anomalies” in the section of pipeline between Needham and Wellesley. There has been no further information as to the number and description of anomalies.  

In light of this event, Sustainable Wellesley makes the following policy recommendations: 

  • Transmission and distribution pipeline operators should be required to work with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Environmental Protection to notify sensitive populations about large gas blowdowns, using a minimum period of time (to be determined) in advance of scheduled gas releases exceeding a minimum threshold (to be determined). When appropriate, based on the quantity and pressure of gas expected to be released, Mass DPH should issue air quality alerts to municipalities expected to be affected by the releases. Municipalities should send push notifications to neighborhoods expected to be affected.
  • Disclosure of pipeline anomalies must be made promptly to municipalities where the anomalies occurred, including the date, time, duration, and nature of the anomalies, and that information should be made publicly available.

What can residents do?

Call your legislators to discuss your concerns about this event.

Rep. Alice Peisch

Alice.Peisch@mahouse.gov

Phone: (617) 722-2070

Senator Becca Rausch

Becca.Rausch@masenate.gov

Phone: (617) 722-1555

Senator Cynthia Creem

Cynthia.Creem@masenate.gov

Phone: (617) 722-1639 

Phyllis Theermann

Big thanks to the Wellesley High School Football players and coaches who took part in the first high school team town-wide clean up this past weekend. This event was so motivating that the team will start doing it annually and have challenged other teams to do it as well.

Members of Wellesley Green Schools and Football Coach Jesse Davis last came together to create a meaningful community-service project to call attention to the increasing problem of single-use plastic pollution.  A team-building cleanup project was proposed and organized, with the NRC providing maps of areas in need of cleanup, as well as gloves, safety vests, and other supplies.

“The Wellesley Football Team town-wide clean up not only beautified Wellesley’s public spaces, but also allowed the players to see first hand the amount of single use plastic around town. This started conversations on ways to reduce it,” said Coach Davis. “To encourage players to create less waste, the team purchased water bottles with their numbers on them for students to re-use,” Davis said.

Thanks to the team’s hard work, residents noticed trash-free areas around the High School, Memorial Grove, Perrin Park, Ollie Turner Park, Ouellette Park, and Reeds Pond.

“The coach encourages us to give back to the community since they support us on the field,” said Holt Fletcher, Wellesley High School senior and one of the four captains of the football team. “Not only was the town-wide clean up a great way for us to do that, and to get out into the community as a team, but it really opened up our eyes to the amount of trash lying around our school and many of the town’s parks and conservation areas,” Fletcher said.

“I hope other teams and community members join the football team in this important effort to help our town,” said Nicholas Cavallerano, a junior on the team. His brother Louis, a freshman, said proudly, “This was my first football community activity and I really liked that coaches and players worked together to help our community with the cleanup.”

To get involved in other town cleanups or propose one of your own, contact the Natural Resources Commission at 781-431-1019, ext. 2294. To learn tips on plastic waste reduction visit Wellesley Green Schools at  www.sustainablewellesley.com.

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Sustainable Wellesley members gathered in front of the Wellesley Community Center holding signs, and wearing safety vests and tape measures of the sort used by utility crews to draw attention to National Grid’s lack of action on gas leaks. The community center is located near a major leak that has been known to the gas company since 2015.

Last week, Sustainable Wellesley called on National Grid to fix the dozens of persistent gas leaks in Wellesley. The leaks emit vast amounts of methane, which is a dangerous and highly potent greenhouse gas that is contributing to global warming.

Sustainable Wellesley President Quentin Prideaux said, “We first started looking at gas leaks in Wellesley in 2015 when there were 197 leaks reported by National Grid — now there are 261. The leaks are actually getting worse and we need National Grid to step up to protect our climate, our safety, and our health.”

The Sustainable Wellesley action was part of a larger effort across the Boston metropolitan area led by Mothers Out Front, the Gas Leaks Allies, and other environmental groups frustrated by the lack of progress on gas leaks. In Boston, more than 100 protesters gathered on Cambridge Street near a 13-year old leak. Activists are particularly concerned that National Grid has backed away from its previous commitment to identify and repair the largest volume leaks, sometimes called “super-emitters.” These large volume leaks make up only about 7 percent of the more than 16,000 leaks in the state but they emit roughly 50 percent of the methane. The other large gas companies — Eversource and Columbia Gas — have already begun using the accepted method for identifying and repairing these leaks, while National Grid has said it will not do so until next year.