Skip to content

Big bank backing, a rushed health impact assessment, and well-connected lobbyists are pushing a controversial fracked gas project near Boston through the regulatory process.

The site for Enbridge Energy Partners’ proposed fracked gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts (photo from YouTube)

The proposed gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts, a community on the South Shore of Boston, has become a flashpoint in the debate over the Atlantic Bridge fracked gas pipeline project. Despite strident local resistance, the compressor station has the backing of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, whose administration recently issued an air quality permit for the project.

Groups like Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and Mothers Out Front are united with the governments of the Town of Weymouth in opposition to the project, which will entail an increase in noise and air pollution in a community already burdened by industrial pollution. It will also lock in rising carbon emissions at a time when the scientific consensus agrees that we must reduce emissions if we hope to avoid global calamity from climate change.

The following are five critical pieces of information that activists need to know as the pipeline project – shepherded by lobbyists with ties to Governor Baker and to the Democratic Party which controls the state legislature – moves through its final regulatory hurdles.

The Weymouth Compressor Station will be co-owned by a Canadian oil company and regulated by utilities who will pass the pipeline costs onto their customers

The compressor station is part of a fracked gas pipeline project called Atlantic Bridge that will mainly be used to export methane to be burned by commercial and industrial customers in Canada (more on this below).

The project is officially owned by Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC, which is controlled through a series of shell companies by Enbridge Energy, which acquired the project through its 2017 merger with Spectra Energy Partners. According to Enbridge’s annual report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Spectra Energy Partners owns a 92% stake in Algonquin Gas Transmission.

Enbridge is a massive pipeline company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In addition to owning the companies behind the Atlantic Bridge project, Enbridge owns several pipelines that transport highly polluting tar sands oil through Canada and the US, such as the Line 3 and Line 5 pipelines. Enbridge president and CEO Al Monaco was paid more than $8.2 million in 2017 and owned $16.9 million worth of Enbridge stock as of March 2018, according to another corporate filing with the SEC.

The regulated utilities Eversource Energy and National Grid own the remaining 8% of the Atlantic Bridge project not controlled by Enbridge. Eversource owns 40% of “Class B” shares and 15% of “Class C” shares of Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC and National Grid owns 20% of “Class B” shares of the company.

Furthermore, Eversource is positioned to profit twice from the gas being shipped through the pipeline – once as an owner of the pipeline, and once through its utility subsidiary NSTAR Gas, which is subscribed to buy, and then sell to its customers, some of the gas that will travel through Atlantic Bridge. NSTAR is one of the 50 largest natural gas utilities in the country – serving more than 280,000 people – according to the American Gas Association (AGA), an industry lobbying group. This mechanism also puts NSTAR’s captive ratepayers on the hook for financing the pipeline, as described in this report from Oil Change International, Public Citizen, and the Sierra Club.

According to a 2018 SEC filing, Eversource CEO James J Judge was paid more than $9 million in 2017.

Minority pipeline owner National Grid – a gas and electric company headquartered in the United Kingdom with more than 1.7 million customers in Massachusetts and New York – does not appear to be subscribed to buy gas moved through the Atlantic Bridge project, according to the list of shippers identified in the 2015 FERC application.

The compressor station will be used to export fracked gas through New England to be burned in Canada

Despite being promoted as necessary to meet growing demand for gas for heating in New England, according to the project’s environmental assessment, more than half of the gas shipped through the network will be exported to Canada.

Of the 132,702 Dekatherms per day (Dth/d) of capacity that would be added to the Algonquin and Maritimes pipeline systems by the Atlantic Bridge project, 91,776 Dth/d will be exported to commercial and industrial consumers in Canada.

Enbridge has taken pains to highlight that none of the Canadian companies that will be buying the fracked gas traveling through the pipeline plan on exporting that gas out of Canada, however that does not negate the fact that the majority of the pipeline capacity will be transporting gas across the US border into Canada in order to be burned there.

The compressor station is backed by big US and international banks that have pledged to stop funding fracked gas projects

Enbridge, the oil and gas company with the biggest stake in Atlantic Bridge and the Weymouth compressor station, has a $2 billion credit agreement with a syndicate of 16 banks.

The top lenders to Enbridge are Bank of America and the Royal Bank of Canada, each of which has offered up to $205 million to the company. Bank of America is especially prominent in the region that will be affected by the Weymouth compressor station. By deposits, it is the largest bank in the state of Massachusetts.

Other banks financing the compressor station through the credit arrangement have pledged in the past to stop financing fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

French banking giant BNP Paribas was one of many banks that was criticized for lending money to Energy Transfer Partners for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In April 2017 the bank sold its stake in a project-level loan for DAPL and in October 2017 it announced that it “would no longer finance new projects that are primarily involved in the transportation or export of oil and gas from shale or oil sands,” according to Reuters. This commitment notably only goes as far as project-level financing, i.e. loans for specific pipeline projects, however, and allows the bank to still lend money to the companies building projects. BNP Paribas has offered up to $100 million in corporate financing for Enbridge, whose Atlantic Bridge pipeline project is specifically for the transportation of shale gas and whose Line 3 pipeline replacement will transport oil sands crude into the United States.

Additionally, Norway’s DnB NOR, which also sold its stake in the project-level loan for the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2017, is financing Atlantic Bridge and the Weymouth compressor station through the up to $100 million it has made available to Enbridge.

All of the banks that are part of Enbridge’s $2 billion credit facility are listed below:

  • Bank of America: $205 million
  • Royal Bank of Canada: $205 million
  • Export Development Canada: $175 million
  • UBS: $175 million
  • Wells Fargo: $175 million
  • Royal Bank of Scotland: $150 million
  • Sumitomo Mitsui: $150 million
  • Morgan Stanley: $110 million
  • Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi: $100 million
  • BNP Paribas: $100 million
  • Citibank: $100 million
  • DnB NOR: $100 million
  • JPMorgan Chase: $100 million
  • Mizuho Corporate Bank: $100 million
  • Deutsche Bank: $55 million
  • Huntington National Bank: $25 million

The state review of health impacts from the compressor station was rushed and marred with problems

In July 2017, after vocal opposition to the Atlantic Bridge plan to expand the compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker directed the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Public Health (DPH) to review the potential health impacts of the project. That study, which was published this week, was marred with problems from the outset.

Though the health impact assessment was ordered in July 2017, it did not get underway until late February or early March of 2018, according to Alice Arena, co-founder of FRRACS and a compressor station opponent who was an appointee to the committee advising the state agencies on the study. The assessment was completed in December 2018, leaving only a few months to collect and interpret data on how the expansion would impact nearby communities. Due to the limited timeframe and budget for the health impact assessment, the team relied on Enbridge data that projects both the types of pollutants and the levels at which they will be emitted, rather than producing that data independently.

After the health impact assessment was released in January 2019, eight of the 15 members of the study advisory committee issued a statement raising “serious concerns” about the conclusions reported.

Though the study found that the area likely to be impacted by the compressor station had levels of pollutants – including carcinogenic volatile organic compounds like benzene – already in excess of DEP standards, the final report concludes that adding another source of these pollutants would have no impact on residents’ health.

In their letter to Governor Baker, advisory committee members who objected to the assessment conclusions pointed to elevated rates of cancer, respiratory, and coronary illness in the area where the compressor station is planned, and to the study’s findings that 46% of the impacted area is comprised of environmental justice communities.

This means that those bearing the burden of the station’s impacts belong to communities who have been historically disempowered and marginalized and who are already suffering from significant health impacts from extant industrial activity.

Lobbyists pushing the compressor station have close relationships with Governor Baker and the Democratic Party

One of the firms that has represented Enbridge/Spectra is ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of the major law firm Mintz Levin. As DeSmog’s Itai Vardi has reported, Mintz Levin and ML Strategies enjoy close ties with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker:

One of the firm’s lobbyists is Bill Weld, who in 2016 ran as the vice-presidential nominee of libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

Weld, himself a former governor of Massachusetts, was Baker’s previous boss and political mentor. Baker served as the state’s Secretary of Health and Human Services under Weld in the mid-1990s. And the two have remained close.

In one of his 2014 gubernatorial campaign videos, Baker is seen walking alongside Weld. When asked last year if he’ll be voting for the libertarian ticket, Baker reportedly said of Weld “I love the man, OK? I really do.”

The chair of ML Strategies, lobbyist Stephen Tocco, was Baker’s former colleague in Weld’s administration. Tocco, who served as Weld’s special assistant and close advisor, reportedly still maintains a close relationship with Baker.

Mark Robinson, another attorney at Mintz Levin, served as a counselor for Baker’s transition committee as he took the governor’s office in 2015. Previously, Robinson was former Governor Weld’s chief of staff.

The Baker committee’s historical expenditure disclosures also show that since 2013, Baker rented Mintz Levin’s office space in downtown Boston a total of three times. In May 2015 ML Strategies held a fundraiser for Baker, raising close to $30,000.

Daniel J Connelly, the ML Strategies lobbyist registered to represent Enbridge, is a former staffer in the Massachusetts state senate. According to his profile on the ML Strategies website, Connelly worked on the Global Warming Solutions Act – a 2008 law that established carbon emission reduction goals and reporting requirements – when he was working for the government. Now, Connelly is getting paid by a major fossil fuel company to promote its interests – including the Atlantic Bridge project which will lock in greater emissions for years to come.

Other firms registered to lobby for the Atlantic Bridge project are the Dewey Square Group, a major lobbying firm that specializes in generating “grassroots” support for its clients and which has close ties to the Democratic party, and the law firm Keegan Werlin, whose sole lobbying clients from 2017 through 2019 have been the Spectra and Enbridge subsidiaries behind Atlantic Bridge and the related Access Northeast pipeline project.