The smell of Natural Gas permeating the South Shore

In January of 2015 a natural gas release in the Fore River resulted in dozens of 911 calls throughout the South Shore (Quincy, Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham and Hull). It turned out that an offshore tanker ship released built-up gasses while in the river, and it was a perfect example of how far the smell of Natural Gas can reach– and how disruptive and alarming it is to citizens.

Compressor Stations release natural gas – it's just a question of how much, and when. During a blowdown, millions of cubic feet of Natural Gas are vented into the air, and the smell of natural gas will be prevalent in our communities.

Impact of Smell on South Shore Communities & Waterfront

Spectra says that any released gasses will dissipate quickly into the atmosphere – but it really depends on the weather conditions. The Fore River is in a basin, and we know how quickly the wind can shift in the South Shore. And while Spectra says that "methane is lighter than air and thus rises into the atmosphere," the additive mercaptan is heavier than air and that is why it sticks around.

Would you want to be on Wessagusset Beach if it smelled like rotten eggs? Or the waterfront paths of Webb Park? What about the lookout atop Great Hill?  How much enjoyment will homeowners get from their "million dollar views" if they have to keep their windows closed to keep out the smell of gas?


Methyl mercaptan is a colorless gas that can be easily ignited, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. It is toxic and can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma, or death.
— Scientific American

Safety of Mercaptan – The Chemical Additive That We're Actually Smelling

Natural Gas is actually odorless – Methyl Mercaptan is a chemical added to Natural Gas to give it the trademark "rotten egg" smell. This is a safety measure to ensure that gas leaks can be detected.

Despite Spectra's claims, mercaptan is not safe. It is an explosive that can be easily ignited. In 2014, mercaptan was responsible for four deaths at an industrial plant in Texas. Mercaptan was the culprit of a rail-car explosion at a plant in Michigan in 2001, killing three, injuring many others, and resulting in the evacuation of nearly 2,000 residents.