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