Battered by protests across the country and a court ruling in Massachusetts, advocates of expanding natural gas infrastructure in New England are going on the offensive with a public relations campaign to boost a pipeline project that would funnel gas to electrical generating plants in the Northeast.
The Access Northeast project proposed by Houston-based Spectra Energy has been met with concerted opposition in Attleboro and Rehoboth, where a compressor station would be located.
There have also been anti-Spectra protests in Weymouth, the New Bedford area and around Greater Boston.
Gas projects have also suffered criticism from the state Attorney General Maura Healey and a major setback before the state Supreme Judicial Court, which invalidated a key part of its financing formula through a surcharge on electric bills.
Now the gas industry and supporters among businesses and consumers are countering with a pro-pipeline campaign that paints expanding gas pipelines as essential to maintaining a reliable electricity supply and cutting costs to consumers.
The Consumer Energy Alliance, an amalgam of industrial interests and individuals who support increased energy distribution, recently released a report saying a failure to allow expansion of gas pipelines would jeopardize almost a third of the United States' generating capacity as other fossil fuel and nuclear plants are retired.
Pipelines, they say, are the safe alternative.
"Pipelines are the safest method of delivering gas," energy alliance President David Holt said. "That's been proven."
Thomas N. Kiley, president and CEO of the Northeast Gas Association, wrote in a recent op-ed in The Sun Chronicle that increased gas supplies have been embraced in the past by environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation, and that failure to expand pipeline capacity threatens to undermine the reliability of New England's power supply.
Expanding pipeline capacity, proponents say, would increase the available supply of gas and save New England electricity customers anywhere from $1.4 billion to $2.5 billion a year.
Opponents, including environmental groups, say that's just wrong.
"The idea that we have a shortage of energy is pure mythology," wrote Josh Block, press secretary for the Conservation Law Foundation, which says additional pipelines and gas facilities are no longer needed. "In fact, we have an excess of gas supply infrastructure, including pipelines and liquified natural gas storage."
Critics also cite a 2013 study documenting large numbers of leaks in local gas distribution lines serving homes and businesses they say are wasting gas.
Attorney General Healey also issued a report calling the proposed gas line expansion unnecessary.
Locally, however, most debate has focused on construction of a gas compressor station that would be placed at the junction of two existing gas pipelines off Finnegan's Way in northwest Rehoboth. The station would be close to the Attleboro and Seekonk lines and within shouting distance of Attleboro's Hewitt-Poncin recreation complex.
Opponents say they fear additional noise, potential air pollution from release of gas and toxic chemicals and the possibility of leaks or accidents that could cause a fire or explosion.
A compressor station is a facility that is needed to create pressure to propel an increased volume of gas through the pipeline. In Rehoboth's case, that would mean a 10,000-plus horsepower unit that would, itself, be fueled by natural gas.
According to the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America's Catherine Landry, federal records indicate there are an estimated 1,800 or more natural gas pipeline compressor stations in the country, including more than 800 compressor stations on interstate pipelines. Most compressor stations are placed every 40 to 100 miles along a gas pipeline, and include a turbine compressor, a scrubber to remove any remaining liquids or impurities, a gas cooling system and generators to provide electrical power.
Proponents say the gas pumped by the station would have already been largely cleaned by the time it reaches Rehoboth, consisting of 93 percent methane.
The clean-burning gas would cause less pollution than other fuels like coal or oil, they say. And any gas released would be lighter than air, causing it to rapidly dissipate in the atmosphere.
Critics say that might sound good, but unburned gas that could leak or be released during periodic "blowdowns" is itself a powerful greenhouse gas that can contribute to climate change. They also worry about smaller amounts of hazardous chemicals, such as lead and benzene that can pollute the air.
"So it's actually worse than coal or oil," said Tracy Manzella of Citizens Against a Rehoboth Compressor Station.
Gas proponents take issue. While a report by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Foundation confirms trace amounts of a number of hazardous chemicals can be found in gas, the report says compressor stations contribute only a tenth of 1 percent of those emissions in the United States.
Another major charge by opponents is that gas Spectra says is needed to run electric generators would actually end up being exported. But Spectra officials, in a September presentation to Rehoboth selectmen, repeated the company's denial, saying that all the gas would be used to run power plants.
Pollution isn't the only thing that worries Rehoboth residents. They say they are also concerned about noise, vibration and the possibility that a leak might lead to a fire or explosion.
Project backers say noise from compressor stations is tightly regulated and would amount to no more than a level similar to conversation in sensitive areas. But neighbors of existing stations say otherwise.
Julia O'Rourke, a Burrillville, R.I., resident who lives on the same street as a recently-upgraded compressor station, told Rehoboth residents recently that noise "will affect your daily life."
She said vibration from the plant shakes her house, and that during a "blowdown" in which gas is purposely released into the atmosphere, the noise is similar to that of a jet engine.
Spectra has not yet filed a final application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, so detailed maps showing the proposed Rehoboth compressor station's precise location and its connections are not yet available.
A map published on the website arcgis.com shows a half-mile radius of a so-called "incineration zone" extending outward beyond Oakhill Avenue in Attleboro. A wider, two-mile radius of a so-called "evacuation zone" would encompass parts of North Seekonk as well as land in Attleboro.
"Incineration zone" and "evacuation zone" are not terms used by federal regulators to describe potential hazard areas near pipelines or compressor stations. "Potential impact radius" and "moderate" and "high consequence" areas are the phrases most typically used to describe areas that might be affected.
But residents are nonetheless concerned that a catastrophic leak or accident involving a compressor station or piping could lead to a fire or explosion.
INGAA's Landry said there have been no reported compressor station incidents involving injuries to the public since the government began keeping records in 2002. Gas pipelines themselves are a different story.
According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, the United States has seen a doubling in the number of major gas pipeline transmission incidents in the past 20 years, from 76 in 1996 to 143 in 2015. Over the entire period, there was a loss of 46 lives and damage totaling $1.8 billion.
The same is not true in New England, where only eight incidents have been recorded since 1996 with no loss of life.
That comes as cold comfort to some neighbors and opponents, who note that gas pipelines and facilities are subject to corrosion and other problems that could result in leaks or fires - if not now, then in the future.
In April 2016, for instance, a Spectra interstate gas pipeline in Salem, Pa., caught fire sending towering flames into the air and cutting flows of gas destined for the Northeast. No deaths were reported.
Company officials were quoted at a meeting with Pennsylvania residents saying unexpectedly rapid corrosion in the pipeline was to blame.
According to the government pipeline safety records, a number of gas pipeline incidents were reported across the country in 2016, including Massachusetts, Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Arkansas. Corrosion or "environmental cracking" was cited in some of the incidents.
At a meeting in September with Rehoboth residents and public officials, Spectra representatives sought to reassure listeners that leaks would not be a problem in their town.
The same day, the Rehoboth Conservation Commission was notified by Spectra that internal inspections had discovered "pipeline anomalies" in two sections of pipeline off Ash and Tremont streets. The anomalies were not explained, but according to the letter federal regulations required that repairs be completed within 30 days.
The letter said repairs would begin that very week.