Quantcast
Popular

Spectra Energy Got to Edit Its Air Pollution Permit for Atlantic Bridge Gas Project

By Itai Vardi

Massachusetts environmental officials allowed Spectra Energy to quietly review and edit a draft approval of an air pollution permit the state plans to grant the company for its Atlantic Bridge gas project.


According to emails obtained by DeSmog through an open records request, this privilege of reviewing and editing the draft approval was granted exclusively to Spectra and not to the general public.

Editing Compressor Project's Draft Pollution Permit

As part of the project, a planned expansion of Spectra's Algonquin pipeline through the northeast U.S., the company intends to build a new gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts. In February, Spectra was officially acquired by Canadian energy giant, Enbridge.

Since the compressor station will emit various pollutants, it requires environmental permits from state authorities. Spectra submitted an air quality application to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in October 2015.

Emails show that within a few months, state officials had already drafted a preliminary permit or "plan approval," of the application.

Then, in February 2016, the DEP's Permitting Chief for the Southeast Region, Thomas Cushing, sent the draft for editing to David Cotter of Trinity Consultants, Spectra's air pollution contractor in the project. Cushing wrote, "David, [A]s discussed, I attached a rough draft of the Algonquin approval for your review and comment."

At that point, the draft was already written on the DEP's official letterhead and addressed to Spectra's Houston headquarters.

Cotter returned the draft to Cushing in early April 2016, after revising it in numerous places using Microsoft Word's track changes tool. In his edits, Cotter changed text, deleted several words and data, and inserted comments.

"Thank you for offering us the opportunity to provide comment on the preliminary draft of the Weymouth permit," Cotter wrote to DEP's Cushing. "Based on your responses to our recommended edits and changes the next version of the draft permit will be forwarded to Spectra for review. We look forward to working with you as we move forward to the final permit."

Cushing wrote back to Cotter, saying: "I took a quick read and can accept most changes, but some I can't. Can I call Friday and discuss?"

Early Draft "Will Not Be Provided to the Public"

In late April Cotter provided an update to Kate Brown, Spectra's consulting scientist in the project, saying that Cushing will send soon the draft for Spectra's review and comment. "Note that this is a client review copy and will not be provided to the public," Cotter assured Brown.

From an email between Spectra consultant David Cotter and Spectra's consulting scientist, Kate Brown, indicating the company's exclusivity in editing the draft permit.

On June 17, 2016, DEP's Cushing finally sent the draft approval to Brown and Ralph Child, an attorney for Mintz Levin, a firm providing legal and permitting services to Spectra in the project. "Please provide comment as appropriate," Cushing wrote. "Feel free to call me to discuss."

Brown sent Spectra's edits on the document back to Cushing in December, writing: "Hi Tom, [A]ttached is the draft Weymouth Compressor Station plan approval, incorporating language as discussed in our meeting last week." As Cotter had done previously, Brown changed and deleted text, and inserted comments.

Cushing allowed Spectra one more round of edits in January this year. Spectra's Brown wrote to him on Jan. 13: "Hi Tom—Attached is the draft Weymouth Compressor Station plan approval, including all Algonquin comments on the plan approval, to date, and incorporating the additional information you requested when we last spoke on 12/29/16."

Cushing also asked Spectra to resubmit a modified application for the permit.

What the Public Didn't See in the Draft Permit

On March 30 this year, the DEP published on its website the draft plan approval, addressed to Spectra's corporate vice president of field operation. Due to the contentious nature of the project, the DEP allowed for a month-long public comment period on the draft before deciding on a final permit.

Comparing Cushing's original draft approval document to the Spectra-revised and final one reveals the DEP had accepted many of the company's edits. For example, Spectra increased the threshold for what will be considered a leak from a pipe seal, from Cushing's original 2,000 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to 10,000 ppmv.

Spectra also removed from the original draft a requirement for the station's initial compliance testing for sulfur dioxide and PM10, which refers to small particulate matter. Both were edited out of the draft approval published online.

On the top, from DEP's original draft approval of the Weymouth compressor pollution permit. Below that, the draft with edits by Spectra Energy.

Following the publication of the draft approval, the DEP received many public comments in opposition to the draft permit. These include a letter by 13 Massachusetts lawmakers who cite various health and safety hazards to the many residents living close to the station, as well as the project's contradiction to the state's goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Spectra Asks for Exemptions from Emission Standards

Spectra apparently also benefitted from the constant phone communication with Cushing, the state official. Emails show that Cushing originally planned to include the station's separator vessel and condensate storage tanks as individual emission units subject to the state's pollution standards.

But following Spectra's request to include these as fugitive emissions exempt from individual emission standards, Cushing seems to have changed his mind.

"Tom was fine with us wanting to include the tanks as fugitives and asked that we send him an email containing a description on how the tanks operate along with our reasoning on why they should be included as fugitives so that he could review," Cotter reported to Spectra in April 2016.

These revelations come shortly after Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton promised to assess Spectra's pending state permits on their merits and "not in any predetermined way."

Yet DeSmog recently revealed the cozy relationship the company's lobbyists in the state had forged in the past two years with its top environmental decision makers, particularly Beaton and his undersecretary, Ned Bartlett. Another of Spectra's lobbyists, ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of law firm Mintz Levin, has connections to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

DeSmog reached out to but did not receive responses from Spectra Energy, Massachusetts DEP and Thomas Cushing.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Pexels

Tackling Climate Change Requires Healing the Divide

Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Pexels

10 Chefs Bringing Forgotten Grains Back to Life

Millets are a staple crop for tens of millions of people throughout Asia and Africa. Known as Smart Food, millets are gluten-free, and an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and dietary fiber. They can also be a better choice for farmers and the planet, requiring 30 percent less water than maize, 70 percent less water than rice, and can be grown with fewer expensive inputs, demanding little or no fertilizers and pesticides.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Háifoss waterfall is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. FEBRUARY / Getty Images

The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel

By Meredith Rosenberg

Between gas-guzzling flights, high-pollution cruise ships and energy-consuming hotels, travel takes a huge toll on the environment. Whether for business or vacation, for many people it's not realistic to simply stop traveling. So what's the solution? There are actually numerous ways to become more eco-conscious while traveling, which can be implemented with these expert tips.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Freder / E+ / Getty Images

Surprising Study: Orangutans Are Only Non-Human Primates Who Can 'Talk' About the Past

We already know that orangutans are some of the smartest land animals on Earth. Now, researchers have found evidence that these amazing apes can communicate about past events—the first time this trait has been observed in a non-human primate.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed that when wild Sumatran orangutan mothers spotted a predator, they suppressed their alarm calls to others until the threat was no longer there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Suicide rates are highest for males in construction and extraction; females in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, the CDC found. Michelllaurence / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

CDC: Suicide Rate Among U.S. Workers Increasing

From 2000 to 2016, the suicide rate among American workers has increased 34 percent, up 12.9 per 100,000 working persons to 17.3, according to a worrisome new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Workers with the highest suicide rates have construction, mining and drilling jobs, the U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
PG&E received a maximum sentence for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Report: 90% of Pipeline Blasts Draw No Financial Penalties

A striking report has revealed that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have drawn no financial penalties for the companies responsible.

The article from E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan underscores the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum

U.S. Navy Proposes Massive Land Grab to Test Bombs

Friday the U.S. Navy released details of a plan to seize more than 600,000 acres of public land in central Nevada to expand a bombing range. The land under threat includes rich habitat for mule deer, important desert springs and nesting sites for raptors like golden eagles.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!