Natural gas company agrees to settlement over air quality violations

Nick Rees Dec. 2, 2009, 2:37pm


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Allegations that an interstate natural gas pipeline and a metering station in Dracut, Mass., violated state air quality regulations have led to a settlement between the owner and state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Under terms of the agreement, entered in Suffolk Superior Court, Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, LLC, will pay a civil penalty to the State of $75,000 for its alleged violations of state air quality regulations.

"We have long championed environmental compliance by companies in the power sector, whether they convey natural gas or other fuels, or generate electrical power," Coakley said.

"This is vital to protect the public health from further air pollution. Although we are fortunate that the public health was not greatly compromised by Maritimes' actions, we will remain vigilant to prevent necessary services from endangering the community."

Maritimes was alleged to have modified its Dracut metering station by adding two pipeline heaters without first obtaining the required Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection preconstruction permit. The facility was operated for eight years without the required permit.

The complaint also alleged that operation of the heaters led to uncontrolled emission of oxides of nitrogen to the ambient air as well as created as condition of air pollution. Oxides of nitrogen released into the atmosphere combine with volatile organic compounds in the presence of heat and sunlight to create ground level ozone that can cause human respiratory and cardiac problems or, in sufficient concentrations, death, it is alleged.

Ozone can also lead to toxic effects in plants that reduce crop yields, degrade man-made materials including rubber and fabrics, increase nitrogen loading in bodies of water, affect aquatic plants and animals, and reduce fish and shellfish populations.

The unpermitted heaters were installed in or about 1999, the complaint says, with the alleged violation coming to the attention of MassDEP in Jan. 2008 when a letter and an application to the agency for permission to install another heater at the metering station and to use the two unpermitted existing heaters was submitted to MassDEP by Maritimes.

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