Mariah Plumlee

13 Arrested While Reading Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change in Blockade

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Aug 042015
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—August 4, 2015

Media Contact: Sandra Steingraber | 607.351.0719

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13 Arrested While Reading Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change in Blockade at Crestwood

 

 Action Against Gas Storage at Seneca Lake Comes One Day After President Obama Releases Clean Power Plan

 

Watkins Glen, NY – Early this morning, in a peaceful act of civil disobedience action against gas storage in Seneca Lake salt caverns that took place the day after President Obama and the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan to move the nation away from fossil fuels, thirteen people from six New York counties were arrested while reading verses from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter on climate change.

Just after dawn, the 13 formed a human blockade at the north and south entrances of Crestwood Midstream’s gas storage facility on Route 14, preventing all traffic from entering or leaving, and began their reading. Joining the pontifical read-aloud was the Reverend John D. Elder, former pastor of the historic First Church in Oberlin, Ohio, and present part-time resident of Schuyler County. Rev. Elder was not arrested.

The words on the banners carried by today’s protesters—“Love the Common Good,” “And Care for This World”—were lines from the prayer that closes the encyclical.

Large trucks attempting to leave the facility were blocked at both the north and south gates of the Crestwood property shortly after 7 a.m. Schuyler County deputies arrested the blockaders at about 7:30 a.m. The 13 were taken into custody, charged with both trespassing and disorderly conduct, and released. None of the 13 blockaders this morning had been previously arrested as part of the We Are Seneca Lake movement, which opposes Crestwood’s plans for methane and LPG storage in lakeside salt caverns.

Two other individuals photographing and videotaping the event were inadvertently arrested and charged with trespassing.

Dan Taylor, 64, of Oxford in Chenango County said, “Yesterday, President Obama released the Clean Power Plan and put the nation on the path to renewable energy. Today, we are standing at the gates of dirty energy to say that Crestwood’s plan for the Finger Lakes is not a clean power plan. I am here to help impede the build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure.”

This morning’s recitation continued the read-aloud from the Pontifical document, Laudato Si! On Care for Our Common Home, that began during a blockade on June 30 and that continued during blockades on July 7 and July 20. All together, 44 people have been arrested as part of encyclical-themed blockades at Crestwood.

One of today’s arrestees, Faith Muirhead, 45, of Beaver Dams in Steuben County, grew up in the Town of Reading near the salt caverns. She said, “We are all of us stewards of the earth. I am a native of Reading and know that this area and Seneca Lake are gifts to be cherished and protected. I feel a responsibility to do what I can to protect these waters and this land. So I pray, I walk, I send letters, I call my state representatives, and today, I stand at the gates of Crestwood to demonstrate my resolve. I am a teacher, and a teacher of teachers. Today, I teach by putting my freedom in jeopardy in order to bring attention to the potential risks inherent in Crestwood’s plans.”

The total number of civil disobedience arrests in the eight-month-old campaign against gas storage now stands at 332.

Crestwood’s methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last October in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of Seneca Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people.

 

The 13 blockaders arrested today were:

George Adams, 65, Ithaca, Tompkins County

Pat Buttolph, 69, Elmira, Chemung County

Joshua Enderle, 20, Cuba, Allegany County

Ruth Groff, 63, Ithaca, Tompkins County

Mary Kirkpatrick, Ithaca, Tompkins County

Richard Hoyt, 64, Geneva, Ontario County

Susanne McNally, 70, Geneva, Ontario County

Faith Muirhead, 45, Beaver Dams, Steuben County

Patricia Rodriguez, 46, Brooktondale, Tompkins County

Trellan Smith, 49, Oxford, Chenango County

Dan Taylor, 64, Oxford, Chenango County

Lynn Westmoreland, 62, Naples, Ontario County

Robyn Wishna, 56, Slaterville Springs, Tompkins County

 

Read more about the protesters at: http://www.wearesenecalake.com/seneca-lake-defendes/.

Read more about widespread objections to Crestwood’s gas storage plans: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/26/nyregion/new-york-winemakers-fight-gas-storage-plan-near-seneca-lake.html?_r=1

Read Gannett’s investigative report about the risks and dangers of LPG gas storage: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/watchdog/2015/06/26/seneca-gas-storage-debated/29272421/.

Background on the protests:

Protesters have been blocking the Crestwood gas storage facility gates since Thursday, October 23rd, including a rally with more than 200 people on Friday, October 24th. On Wednesday, October 29, Crestwood called the police and the first 10 protesters were arrested.  More information and pictures of the actions are available at http://www.wearesenecalake.com.

The unified We Are Seneca Lake protests started on October 23rd because Friday, October 24th marked the day that major new construction on the gas storage facility was authorized to begin. The ongoing acts of civil disobedience come after the community pursued every possible avenue to stop the project and after being thwarted by an unacceptable process and denial of science. The protests are taking place at the gates of the Crestwood compressor station site on the shore of Seneca Lake, the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes.

The methane gas storage expansion project is advancing in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of the lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. Crestwood has indicated that it intends to make Seneca Lake the gas storage and transportation hub for the northeast, as part of the gas industry’s planned expansion of infrastructure across the region.

*Note that the WE ARE SENECA LAKE protest is to stop the expansion of methane gas storage, a separate project from Crestwood’s proposed Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) storage project, which is on hold pending a Department of Environmental Conservation Issues Conference on February 12th.

As they have for a long time, the protesters are continuing to call on President Obama, U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Governor Cuomo, and Congressman Reed to intervene on behalf of the community and halt the dangerous project. In spite of overwhelming opposition, grave geological and public health concerns, Crestwood has federal approval to move forward with plans to store highly pressurized, explosive gas in abandoned salt caverns on the west side of Seneca Lake. While the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has temporarily halted plans to stockpile propane and butane (LPG) in nearby caverns—out of ongoing concerns for safety, health, and the environment—Crestwood is actively constructing infrastructure for the storage of two billion cubic feet of methane (natural gas), with the blessing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

More background, including about the broad extent of the opposition from hundreds of wineries and more than a dozen local municipalities, is available on the We Are Seneca Lake website at http://www.wearesenecalake.com/press-kit-archive/.

 

 

Encyclical IV August 4, 2015

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Aug 042015
 

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Yoga Practitioners Bend Over Backwards to Protect Seneca Lake

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Jul 292015
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—July 29, 2015

Media Contact: Lindsay Speer | 315.383.7210

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Yoga practitioners literally bend over backwards to protect Seneca Lake

Ten Finger Lakes Residents Arrested in Civil Disobedience Blockade at Crestwood

Watkins Glen, NY – In an act of peaceful civil disobedience against gas storage in Seneca Lake salt caverns, ten Finger Lakes residents, including many practitioners of yoga, blockaded the north entrance of Crestwood Midstream on Route 14 just after dawn July 29 beginning with a series of sun salutations.

Yoga mats were rolled out on the pavement for the participants to perform a series of vinyasa poses. A dozen others joined them, doing yoga on the grass nearby.  Relaxing cello music accompanied the yoga practice, performed by Ithaca College cello teacher Elizabeth Simpkin, 49, of Ithaca, who was also arrested.

“When we practice yoga, we often dedicate our practice each day as an offering to something we love,” reflected Anastasia Benson, 22, a practitioner of Yin Yoga who was arrested, “today we do it for the future of Seneca Lake and the Finger Lakes region.”

“I am here today to stand for clean air and water,” explained Yvonne LaMontagne, 64, of Ithaca. “They are fundamental and necessary components of a healthy natural environment, an environment that my children will need to support and nourish their health and that is needed by all life on the planet.”

They were joined by Charley Bowman, 68, of Getsville, NY.  “I heard that [longtime peace activist] Jerry Berrigan passed away this week, and that the funeral is today in Syracuse. Getting arrested standing up for what is right seemed like an appropriate way to honor his life.” Berrigan, 95, was one of three brothers known for their civil disobedience work throughout their lives.

Many of the blockaders and their supporters had also participated in the “Prayer for the Finger Lakes” event on June 21 at Taughannock Park, where over 100 people performed 108 sun salutations to mark the summer solstice and raise money and awareness to benefit Gas Free Seneca, which is fighting the proposed LPG gas storage facility through the regulatory process and courts.

Today’s blockaders held banners that said, “Our lives hang in the balance,” and “Bending over backward to save Seneca Lake.” Blockaders included plenty of balancing and backbend poses such as Vrikshasana (tree pose), Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel), and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge) along with acroyoga poses Back Flying Bird and High Flying Whale.  They also meditated on the concept of Ahimsa (nonviolence), the first of the five ethical precepts of the Yoga Sutra.

“I am here today because big out of town businesses like Crestwood, who are more concerned with profit than common sense, health, or the environment, should not be able to dictate what happens to our region,” explained Kim Knight, 31, of Covert. “Fossil fuels as power should not be being expanded; there are plenty of other renewable ways to create energy and power, and that is what we should be focused on.”

A large empty flatbed truck was blocked at the north gate at 8 a.m. Schuyler County deputies arrested the 10 shortly after 8:30 a.m. at both the North and South gates of the Crestwood property.  As before, the protesters were taken into custody, charged with trespassing and released.

The total number of arrests in the nine-month-old civil disobedience campaign now stands at 319, with 270 individuals arrested.

None of the protesters this morning had been previously arrested as part of the We Are Seneca Lake movement, which opposes Crestwood’s plans for methane and LPG storage in lakeside salt caverns and which has been ongoing since October 2014.

Crestwood’s methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last October in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of Seneca Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people.

The ten arrested today were:

Anastasia Benson, 22, Lodi, Seneca County

Charlie Bowman, 68, Getzville, Erie County

David Gallahan, 62, Ithaca, Tompkins County

Loretta Heimbuch, 65, Trumansburg, Tompkins County

William Huston, 54, Binghamton, Broome County

Kim Knight, 31, Covert, Seneca County

Mikayla Kravetz, 22, Poplar Ridge, Cayuga County

Yvonne LaMontagne, 64, Ithaca, Tompkins County

Stacey McNeill, 44, Ithaca, Tompkins County

Elizabeth Simkin, 49, Ithaca, Tompkins County

 

Read more about the protesters at: http://www.wearesenecalake.com/seneca-lake-defendes/.

Read more about widespread objections to Crestwood’s gas storage plans: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/26/nyregion/new-york-winemakers-fight-gas-storage-plan-near-seneca-lake.html?_r=0.

Read Gannett’s investigative report about the risks and dangers of LPG gas storage: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/watchdog/2015/06/26/seneca-gas-storage-debated/29272421/.

Background on the protests:

Protesters have been blocking the Crestwood gas storage facility gates since Thursday, October 23rd, including a rally with more than 200 people on Friday, October 24th. On Wednesday, October 29, Crestwood called the police and the first 10 protesters were arrested.  More information and pictures of the actions are available at www.WeAreSenecaLake.com.

The unified We Are Seneca Lake protests started on October 23rd because Friday, October 24th marked the day that major new construction on the gas storage facility was authorized to begin. The ongoing acts of civil disobedience come after the community pursued every possible avenue to stop the project and after being thwarted by an unacceptable process and denial of science. The protests are taking place at the gates of the Crestwood compressor station site on the shore of Seneca Lake, the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes.

The methane gas storage expansion project is advancing in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of the lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. Crestwood has indicated that it intends to make Seneca Lake the gas storage and transportation hub for the northeast, as part of the gas industry’s planned expansion of infrastructure across the region.

*Note that the WE ARE SENECA LAKE protest is to stop the expansion of methane gas storage, a separate project from Crestwood’s proposed Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) storage project, which is on hold pending a Department of Environmental Conservation Issues Conference on February 12th.

As they have for a long time, the protesters are continuing to call on President Obama, U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Governor Cuomo, and Congressman Reed to intervene on behalf of the community and halt the dangerous project. In spite of overwhelming opposition, grave geological and public health concerns, Crestwood has federal approval to move forward with plans to store highly pressurized, explosive gas in abandoned salt caverns on the west side of Seneca Lake. While the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has temporarily halted plans to stockpile propane and butane (LPG) in nearby caverns—out of ongoing concerns for safety, health, and the environment—Crestwood is actively constructing infrastructure for the storage of two billion cubic feet of methane (natural gas), with the blessing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

More background, including about the broad extent of the opposition from hundreds of wineries and more than a dozen local municipalities, is available on the We Are Seneca Lake website at http://www.wearesenecalake.com/press-kit/.

 

Yoga Blockade July 29, 2015

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Jul 292015
 

Yoga Blockade July 29, 2015

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Catholic Worker Blockade Photos July 20, 2015

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Jul 202015
 

Catholic Worker Blockade 7.20.15

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Charges Dismissed ‘In the Interest of Justice’ for 42 Seneca Lake Gas Storage Protesters

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Mar 192015
 

senecalake650

Charges Dismissed ‘In the Interests of Justice’ for 42 Seneca Lake Gas Storage Protesters
Mariah Plumlee | March 19, 2015 10:57 am | Comments

[Author’s Note: As this goes to press, Reverend Nancy Kasper’s charges were dismissed in the interest of justice. She was one of 42 dismissals at the Reading Town Court on March 18.  Reverend Kasper will still go to trial for her second arrest.]

It was 4 degrees on February 23, on the drive from Mecklenburg to the Reading Town Court. It had become a familiar route. Since October, I’ve been part of a local movement protesting the expansion of gas storage beside Seneca Lake by a company called Crestwood Midstream. The argument is a familiar one. People against the expansion cite environmental concerns: unstable caverns with a history of collapse, air quality issues and their associated health risks, increased train and truck traffic. Local winemakers are concerned about their grapes, being sullied by an industry known for its cavalier destruction.

To date, there have been 216 arrests at the gates of Crestwood. Since November, I have watched musicians, professors, nurses, teachers, bakers, chefs, psychologists, farmers, philosophers, business owners, winemakers and parents face charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct at the Reading Town Court. It is, my husband says, my miniseries.

The best part of the drive is heading west on 79 out of Burdett when the lake just appears. Boom. Like a guy jumping out of a cake. I grew up downstate, in a family that eschewed fresh water for salt. I find it hard to trust water that doesn’t move with the moon. (I once burst into tears at a gas station in Queens because I could smell the ocean). My children, however, were born here. Ignorant of sand up their swimsuits, or being caught in a dead man’s roll, they make piles of shale on Lodi Point every summer, squawking with excitement when a boat goes by, and for a moment, there is a wave. They are lake people. Headed down the hill, the lake was on my right, massive and unapologetic. It was so cold I was driving with my gloves still on.

Today was Reverend Nancy Kasper’s trial. She pled not guilty at her arraignment, and chose to go to trial with a public defender. For a violation, there is no jury, just the judge, which I have learned, is called a bench trial. The deputy at the door of the courthouse asked me if I was there for an arraignment or if I was ‘just visiting”. This is the euphemism he uses every time he sees me, though I am attending a public trial, in a public building. Then it was time for the search. I held my arms out in a T, and told him I’d left my phone in the car. We both agreed that I didn’t have any weapons or bombs on me. He outlined my down coat with the metal detector, and it beeped its assent. All I had on me were mechanical pencils.

I’ve been attending these court proceedings for two reasons. One: moral outrage. Jamming fracked gases into unstable caverns under one of the biggest sources of freshwater in the state, in the heart of a thriving, award winning wine industry is madness. Two: Gratitude. I came of age in a world without trustworthy role models. My heart has grown three sizes watching the people here stand up to defend their home, their water. They have given me the beginnings of faith. So I show up.

There were a handful of people in the courtroom: a few Seneca Lake Defenders that I knew; Barry Moon, the director of operations at Crestwood; and a young man in a dark suit and hair product sitting beside him. He never identified himself.

Wesley Roe, Reverend Kasper’s public defender, started things off by reminding Judge Berry that he had passed a motion requesting an expert witness. His argument, he said, was two-pronged. One, the Reverend had acted on a belief of imminent harm, and two, that harm was real. In order to show this, he said specific testimony was necessary from an expert witness.

John Tunney, the assistant District Attorney, took issue with Mr. Roe’s request, saying, “justification is not an applicable defense.” The question, he said, was not why the defendant had trespassed, but whether or not she had trespassed. Judge Berry said he agreed with ADA Tunney and that there would be no expert witness.

Judge Berry went on to say that in his understanding the application for construction of a compressor station had not yet been approved by the DEC. Roe reminded him that FERC had approved Crestwood’s request to expand their current methane storage to 2 billion cubic feet last summer. Judge Berry still would not allow the expert witness.

Mr. Tunney called Barry Moon and Deputy Eberhardt to testify. Mr. Moon, who is the Director of Operations at Crestwood, has worked for the company for the last 27 years, since they were Bath Petroleum. He is familiar with the physical plant, and involved with the wells and layout of salt and gas facilities. He told us about the NO TRESPASSING signs at the site and that the protestors did not have Crestwood’s permission to be on the property. He was working at the brine field on November 19, 2014, when he was informed that the gate was being blocked. He made the official complaint to the police that resulted in Rev. Kasper’s arrest, among others. This was my first time seeing Barry Moon in the flesh. He wore a striped shirt and corduroy pants. He was unassuming and polite while on the stand. I wondered what he really thought about all of this.

Deputy Eberhardt described the scene at the site of the arrest and identified Rev. Kasper as one of the people blockading the south gate. Mr. Roe asked him if the blockaders were doing any harm. Mr. Tunney objected to that line of questioning. Mr. Roe was finally allowed to ask Mr. Eberhardt if the protestors had been compliant. “Did they resist? Were they reasonable? Did they answer your questions?” They had not resisted, they were compliant.

Reverend Kasper testified on her own behalf. Tall and neatly dressed, she spoke calmly with clarity. She said she was compelled as a mother and as a citizen of this planet to protect our future. She spoke of mass extinctions and environmental degradation, about being a minister, and the harm that she has witnessed to the earth over the course of her lifetime. She said she put her body in the way of progress, that … But Tunney stopped her before she was finished, saying, “I have tried to be indulgent. I understand the point. It is not unfounded. I am objecting on the subject of relevance.” The only thing that mattered, he argued, was that she admitted to trespassing. Mr. Roe urged Judge Berry to dismiss the charges in the interest of justice. Mr. Tunney insisted that was a pretrial motion and couldn’t be requested now. Mr. Roe objected to the preclusion of his expert witness and asked again how imminent harm could possibly be irrelevant. He got no answer from Judge Berry.

The court was adjourned. I asked Mr. Tunney to explain his argument about the justification defense not being relevant. He said in Section 35 subdivision 2 of the Penal Code it says that under certain circumstances criminal conduct may be justified and reasonable and necessary to avoid imminent harm, such as a man breaking into a house that is on fire to save a child’s life. As an example, he mentioned a case down state where some people had blocked a bulldozer in an attempt to save a park from destruction, but they did so 7 hours before the demolition was to begin. They could have used those 7 hours to call a lawyer and get an injunction, Mr. Tunney explained to me, so they therefore could not use the justification defense. Rev. Kasper’s case was even more pronounced, he said, as it had been several months since her arrest, with no new developments at the construction site.

I drove back the way I had come, my face smarting from the short walk to the car. The wind had picked up, and the air was exquisitely painful. The lake was on my left now. Tidal or not, the sight of all water was comforting. Still a liquid, holding strong at 32 degrees. A warm spot. A 600-foot deep, forty-mile long warm spot. Even now, in this harsh winter, the lake was moderating the climate for us. A miracle.

‘I have tried to be indulgent,’ Tunney had said, as he interrupted Nancy. I have indulged many a toddler in my career, and I know that telling them they are being indulged is the final flourish on the manipulation. He didn’t have to let her talk about why she trespassed, but he did. For a little while.

State Route 14 south merged from two lanes into one and I eased in behind a truck. It was hard to keep my attention on the road, rendered a gray by the salt, boring compared to the shifting textures and tones out on the lake. There was wind out there, slicing the water into pieces of light. I ran through the words for blue that I knew: Cobalt. Cerulean. Aegean. Azure. Ultramarine. Sapphire. Lapis. None of them were accurate enough for what I saw. Take all the words for blue, put them into a kaleidoscope, look straight into a cold sun. That’s what color it was.

I thought about Mr. Tunney’s definition of imminent harm, how small it was. Nancy Kasper, on the other hand, made the issue big. Big like the lake is big. She had big reasons for risking arrest. Our water, our soil, is at the very root of what this place is, and why we are able to live here. Tunney said our concerns weren’t unfounded. Why isn’t he fighting for us? Why is the DA’s office protecting an industry that considers the lake, the grapes, and the farms an insubstantive issue?

Of the 216 arrests that have occurred, Reverend Kasper’s trial is the first. She is the first voice of many to publically stand trial in an attempt to protect their home, their water. They aren’t going to stop, those clear, calm voices. The water was still on my left as I put my Subaru in fourth to get up the hill. Soon it would be behind me, just out of sight.

 

 

Charges dismissed for We Are Seneca Lake protesters

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Mar 192015
 

Judge Raymond Berry dismissed all charges against the 42 protesters, according to a news release from We Are Seneca Lake.

People from all over the region have held ongoing protests at the gates of Crestwood Midstream in the Town of Reading Schuyler County for about five months. Protesters have included local winemakers, teachers, students and musicians.

According to We Are Seneca Lake, in an agreement with the Schuyler County District Attorney’s office, the charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct will also be dismissed against about 100 additional people whose cases were pending.

In the past, protesters have criticized Berry for handing down maximum sentences.

The defendants who appeared before Berry on Wednesday submitted an oral motion asking for their charges to be dismissed. Their statement read:

“We only have this planet. We must safeguard it for those who follow. Would that it not be necessary, but sometimes citizens of good conscience must engage in non-violent acts of civil disobedience to protect that sacred trust. As long as Crestwood Midstream Partners, or any other corporate or public or private entity, continues to threaten our way of life by the proven dangerous storage of highly compressed gas in the crumbling caverns at the Salt Point facility, I reserve the right to act as my conscience dictates in order to protect Seneca Lake, its citizens, and the surrounding environment. I reserve all rights to protest further at the Crestwood facility, although it is not my intent at this time to break the law in doing so.”

Assistant District Attorney John Tunney expressed his willingness to accept a motion to dismiss after each recitation, members of We Are Seneca Lake stated.

Sujata Gibson, a defense attorney who has worked with the protesters since December, said the motion dismissals were a historic move that affirms the importance of the protesters.

“We’ve seen a sea change in the way the court and the prosecutors have reacted to our cases — from maximum sentences for jail terms for trespassing violations to large-scale offers to support dismissals in the interests of justice. This is a testament to the sincerity and passion of the protesters,” Gibson stated in a press release.

Protesters that had motions dismissed Wednesday:

Judy Abrams, 66, Trumansburg, Tompkins County;

Edgar Brown, 60, Naples, Ontario County;

Carolyn Byrne, 38, Ithaca, Tompkins County;

Deborah Cippola-Dennis, 49, Dryden, Tompkins County;

Joanne Cippola-Dennis, 53, Dryden, Tompkins County;

Lyndsay Clark, 53, Springwater, Livingston County;

James Connor, 83, Mecklenburg, Schuyler County;

Doug Couchon, 64, Elmira, Chemung County;

Kim Cunningham, 58, Naples, Ontario County;

John Dennis, 63, Lansing, Tompkins County;

Michael Dineen, 65, Ovid, Seneca County;

Peter Drobney, 56, Corning, Steuben County;

Martha Ferger, 90, Dryden, Tompkins County;

Richard Figiel, 68, Hector, Schuyler County;

Carrie Fischer, 38 Fayette, Seneca County;

Kenneth Fogarty, 75, Guilford, Chenango County;

Lynn Gerry, 58, Watkins Glen, Schuyler County;

Heather Hallagan, 41, Meckenburg, Schuyler County;

Carey Harben, 47, Hector, Schuyler County;

Nancy Kasper, 56, North Rose, Wayne County;

Sharon Kahkonen, 65, Mecklenburg, Schuyler County;

Crow Marley, 55, Hector, Schuyler County;

Faith Meckley, 20, Geneva, Ontario County;

Kelly Morris, 55, Danby, Tompkins County;

Paul Passavant, 48, Geneva, Ontario County;

Kirsten Pierce, 44, Burdett, Schuyler County;

Mariah Plumlee, 35, Covert, Seneca County;

Leslie Potter, 70, Big Flats, Chemung County;

Dan Rapaport, 54, Newfield, Tompkins County;

Stephanie Redmond, 38, Ithaca, Tompkins County;

Rick Rogers, 66, Spencer, Tioga County;

Cat Rossiter, 62, Sayre, Bradford County;

Laura Salamendra, 30, Geneva, Ontario County;

Coby Schultz, 54, Springwater, Livingston County;

Elan Shapiro, 67, Ithaca, Tompkins County;

Brion Seime, 42, Newfield, Tompkins County;

Stefan Senders, 55, Hector, Schuyler County;

Audrey Southern, 31, Burdett, Schuyler County;

Chris Tate, 52, Hector, Schuyler County;

John Wertis, 51, Wertis, Trumansburg, Tompkins County;

Dwain Wilder, 75, Rochester, Monroe County;

Ruth Young, 77, Horseheads, Chemung County.

Follow Kelsey O’Connor on Twitter @ijkoconnor.

After the Fracking Ban

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Feb 092015
 

After the Fracking Ban

What’s next for New York’s environmental movement?

It’s been just over a month since Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced that fracking would be banned in New York State. This decisive victory for environmental activists who had campaigned for years to keep the industry out of the state also presents a dilemma: Without a high profile issue to rally around, will the state’s environmental movement be able to achieve more far-reaching goals?

Anti fracking protest in NYCPhoto by Adam Welz/CREDO Action

The ban on fracking is freeing up precious time and resources for the New York environmental community to move onto other campaigns, many of which are related to unconventional oil and gas development.

In a post on its website Catskill Mountainkeeper, a grassroots organization involved in the anti-fracking movement from the very beginning, summed up the mood as follows: “This is a huge win for New Yorkers,” the organization wrote, “but the fight is far from over.” Indeed, some activists argue that Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking was less fraught for the governor than it seemed. With oil and gas prices as low as they are, the economic imperative to drill simply wasn’t there. In a few years oil could easily be trading at $100 a barrel, natural gas prices could be high, and a future administration might decide to change course.

“While there was a really amazing and grassroots effort that happened across New York state,” says Henry Harris, an organizer with Rising Tide, “I think we are left with the problematic equation that we’re always dealing with where an environmental win is usually temporary and a loss is usually permanent.”

Still, the ban on fracking in New York State is freeing up precious time and resources for the environmental community to move onto other campaigns, many of which are related to unconventional oil and gas development, as well as focus on the important task of figuring out how to move away from fossil fuels altogether. Plus, activists haven’t given up on the push to ban fracking elsewhere, in nearby states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, or nationwide for that matter. “We’d like to spread the ban fever from New York across the nation,” says Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “Until that happens, nobody is safe or in any way free from the pollution and degradation of our natural world that comes with fracking for both gas and shale oil.”

That includes New Yorkers. Carluccio in no way downplays the significance of the Cuomo administration’s decision — it has changed dynamics on the ground —but points out that threats from fracking, direct and indirect, remain.

Long before the ban became official policy there were a number of projects underway in New York that are a direct result of the energy boom (According to Catskill Mountainkeeper there are more than 40 proposed or approved gas infrastructure projects in New York state alone.) There are efforts to turn the western part of the state, known for its wineries and lakes, into a gas transportation and storage hub. There are several proposed pipelines that would carry gas from the Marcellus Shale to markets throughout the Northeast. And there are trains carrying shale oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation passing through towns and cities in New York on a daily basis. Much of that oil is being offloaded in Albany and then shipped by barge or rail to refineries along the East Coast and Canada.

According to Harris, Rising Tide and a network of environmental groups in the Northeast are in the process of planning a major strategy meeting that will focus on the infrastructure fight or on oil-by-rail, both of which have become top priorities. “The invitation is not just to do broad based organizing strategy but also to employ direct action,” he says.

Even as the fracking ban was announced, We are Seneca Lake, an environmental group opposed to the planned storage of liquid petroleum gas in the Finger Lakes region, had launched a civil disobedience campaign to draw attention to the project. To date more than 200 people have been arrested. Meanwhile, activists in Pennsylvania and New York have joined together to fight the Constitution Pipeline, which would cross most of New York’s southern tier. The Stop the Pipeline coalition is a sophisticated network of landowners and environmentalists working to protect their, “lawns, fields, forests, wetlands and streams.” Agencies like FERC and PHMSA — no longer simply arcane acronyms —are routinely engaged by residents, landowners, and activists who have inserted themselves into the regulatory process. Public hearings are packed and the agencies that approve pipelines or compressor stations are closely scrutinized.

This would not have been the case five years ago before the anti-fracking movement emerged. Thus the fracking opposition has given birth to a new wave of environmentalism, broadly opposed to the extractive industry and highly conscious of the ways that oil and gas development affects us all. “There’s been a sea change in terms of public awareness about the dangers of fracking and the foolishness of continuing to develop fossil fuels as an energy source,” Carluccio says.

It’s not only infrastructure that poses a problem. There are still ways in which fracking could have an impact on New York’s air and water quality, raising public health and safety concerns. The state has few regulations governing the disposal of by-products from oil and gas development, including radioactive drill cuttings.

For several years a landfill in Chemung County has received solid waste from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, and the landfill would like to expand its operation. At least five other landfills in the state have done the same. A recent report from Environmental Advocates of New York revealed that the state had accepted at least 460,000 tons and 23,000 barrels of waste from drilling in Pennsylvania since 2010. (A large percentage of the wastewater generated from fracking in the Marcellus Shale is sent to Ohio and injected underground). In addition, there are few if any regulations governing the withdrawal of water from rivers and streams in New York state for use in fracking operations elsewhere.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for environmental groups in New York State is figuring out how to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Carluccio says a lot of groups are now putting time and energy into coming up with solutions, but admits that more needs to be done. She points to Josh Fox’s solutions grassroots tour, a sort of traveling roadshow devoted to clean energy and the Delaware Riverkeeper’s own blueprint on renewables. Catskill Mountainkeeper has launched Renewable NY, a new campaign with the ambitious goal of transitioning completely to renewable energy by 2050; the organization recently received a $1.8 million grant to continue its work. Even though the task is daunting Carluccio says she’s hopeful because there are so many more people involved today than there were five years ago.

Indeed, another kind of infrastructure has emerged in the wake of New York’s long battle against fracking — an engaged network of residents, activists, and environmental organizations.

Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, for example, was formed in 2008 when residents got wind of the oil and gas industry looking to drill in the area. From a handful of people gathering around a kitchen table the group has grown to more than 14,000 members in several states. As the name suggests, the organization has always been interested in more than simply banning unconventional oil and gas development in New York. Early on the group focused on issues like energy exports, infrastructure, and the end use of fossil fuels.

“Why should we be using fracked gas in New York when we know it’s so dangerous,” says Jill Wiener, a member of Catskill Citizens. “We have a ban and now it’s our responsibility to make sure that we protect ourselves and our neighbors and neighbors in other states and across the country from this industry.”

Wiener says when she and her allies started out back in 2008 most of the big green groups told them the best they could hope for was better regulation of the industry. But Catskill Citizens and a handful of other grassroots organizations in the state weren’t having it. They saw what was happening in other parts of the country and sought an outright ban. “We really believed it was possible and it was,” she says.

The question now is how to translate that win into another victory. Rising Tide’s Harris says his organization plans to escalate direct action tactics throughout the Northeast into the fall. At the same time frontline communities in New York and the region have been radicalized and educated about the threats of oil and gas development. And they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

“I don’t think it’s harder to mobilize,” Carluccio says. “I think the anti-fracking movement is growing because of the build out of infrastructure. Today it’s a different world and I have hope because of that.”

Pressure Mounts to Halt Storage Permit Near Seneca Lake

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Feb 042015
 
By Julie Sherwood
Newly-formed coalition is among those opposed to allowing natural gas and propane storage facilities in former salt mines along Seneca Lake.
  • A march in downtown Geneva Saturday called for a halt to a proposal seeking to permit liquid propane gas storage in former salt mines along Seneca Lake.   COURTESY OF WE ARE SENECA LAKE TOO FACEBOOK PAGE
A march in downtown Geneva Saturday called for a halt to a proposal seeking to permit liquid propane gas storage in former salt mines along Seneca Lake. COURTESY OF WE ARE SENECA LAKE TOO FACEBOOK PAGE
As the state moves into what could be the final stage in permitting liquid propane gas storage in former salt mines along Seneca Lake, those against the plan are stepping up efforts to stop it.

Next week the state Department of Environmental Conservation holds an “issues conference,” which determines if the DEC will pursue further investigation of citizens’ concerns on the proposal’s environment effects.
“This is the endgame,” said Doug Couchon, a key organizer of the “We Are Seneca Lake” group opposed to the plan. Couchon, who lives in Elmira, was a speaker at a rally Saturday in Geneva dubbed We Are Seneca Lake, Too.
Among the 300-plus protesters at the rally, which included speeches at City Hall and a march from Lakefront Park through downtown, was South Bristol resident Edgar Brown. Brown said he was encouraged by the rally and other developments putting pressure on the state to deny the permit.
“Awareness is growing, and there is an increasing feeling of solidarity,” said Brown.
At the issues conference on Feb. 12 in Horseheads, Chemung County, a judge will consider information presented by pre-approved individuals and groups on the environmental effects of the proposal by Houston-based Crestwood Midstream. From there, the judge could call for a full adjudication of the concerns, or could grant Crestwood the permit.
A recent development in the growing efforts to halt the project was the formation of Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and that organization’s Jan. 30 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The coalition — representing wineries, vineyards and wine-related businesses from the Finger Lakes region — also participated in the push to prevent shale gas drilling in New York. Cuomo last year put the kibosh on drilling
“We view this Facility as a direct threat not only to Seneca Lake, but to the strong and growing tourism industry in the Finger Lakes,” stated the letter signed by the dozens of coalition members, including Will Ouweleen of Eagle Crest Vineyards, John Ingle of Heron Hill Winery; and Doug Hazlitt of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. The letter also pointed to data supporting a poor history of similar gas storage facilities in salt caverns nationwide, threatening safety and quality of life.
The Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and other opponents say the permit would bring heavy industry, more truck traffic and unacceptable risk of catastrophic accidents to a region that thrives on tourism.
Brown expressed his feelings in a post for We Are Seneca Lake web page, saying that as the father of young sons, he wants them to “grow up to understand, love, and protect the Finger Lakes” and to model that commitment himself.

Brown added the larger story, however, is about the hundreds of thousands of local citizens who have chosen to create an exceptional quality of life for their families and future generations … in an area of “world class viticulture, cutting-edge organic agriculture, and sustainable ecotourism.”
“That is a beautiful story that corporate officials in ivory towers in Houston, Texas, can never possibly hope to understand,” he wrote. “There is no pocketbook deep enough to challenge and prevail against this kind of fierce, collective commitment.”– See more at: http://www.irondequoitpost.com/article/20150204/NEWS/150209910/1994/NEWS/sthash.STQWstWF.dpuf#sthash.G6gWOr66.dpuf

A Risk Too Far

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Jan 262015
 

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Risk Too Far

Assessing risk is a complicated thing.  The technical definition of risk — that it is equal to the statistical probability of exposure multiplied by the statistical probability of harm — seems simple enough.  But in practice, calculating those probabilities is far from straightforward.  And when you throw in questions like, “Are the people exposed to the risk the same ones as the ones who are benefiting from it?” and “What if the people involved in the risk assessment are very likely to be lying to you?”, it becomes damn near impossible to determine.

Such is the situation we find ourselves in, here in upstate New York.  The current controversy that is polarizing the region surrounds the benefits and risks of hydrofracking and storage of natural gas and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) in salt caverns underneath Seneca and Cayuga Lake.  You see signs in front of houses saying “Ban Fracking!” and “Friends of New York State Natural Gas” in almost equal numbers.
So let’s roll out some facts, here, and see what you think.
Hydrofracking well in the Barnett Shale, near Alvarado, Texas [image courtesy of photographer David R. Tribble and the Wikimedia Commons]
Hydrofracking involves the use of sand, salt, and surfactant-laden water to blow open shale formations to release trapped natural gas.  The gas is pumped back up, along with a toxic slurry of “fracking fluid” that then has to be disposed of.  The gas itself is transported down a spider’s web of pipelines, some of which pump the pressurized gas down into the abandoned salt mines that honeycomb our area.
In upstate New York, the permission to build the infrastructure for this massive project was granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year, in a move that brushed aside objections from geologists and ecologists, and which appears to many of us to be a rubber-stamp approval of corporate interests over safety and clean drinking water.  Now, Crestwood Midstream, a Texas-based energy company, wants to expand the current salt-cavern storage to include LPG.
So let’s see what we can do to consider the risks involved in this project.
The first piece, the risk of exposure, involves looking at the history of fracking and gas storage, to see if comparable facilities have experienced problems.  So here are a few accidents that have occurred in such sites:
What I haven’t told you, however, is the time scale involved with these events.
All of them occurred within the past twelve months.
Kind of puts a new spin on the gas industry’s claim that fracking is safe for humans and for the environment, doesn’t it?
What seals the deal is the question of what happens after these accidents occur.  The answer is: not much.  The question is, honestly, not so much “what is done?” but “what could be done?”  And the answer is still: not much.  Such accidents are nearly impossible to remediate completely, and leave behind fouled ecosystems and contaminated drinking water that won’t be useable for generations.
So as you can see from the above list, accidents really are more of a matter of “when,” not “if.”  This leaves it to the local residents to consider what the response would be if the unthinkable happens.  The result would be the salinization of a huge amount of water in the south end of Seneca Lake, which would likely be permanent as far as human lifetimes are concerned, given Seneca Lake’s depth and slow rate of flushing.  Aquifers would become too saline to use for drinking water or agriculture, which would destroy not only local farms but the multi-million-dollar winery industry that has become a mainstay of the economy.
And whose responsibility would it be if a problem did occur?  The answer is, “Not Crestwood’s.”  They are not insured against accidents of this scale.  To quote directly from their own 10K report:

These risks could result in substantial losses due to breaches of contractual commitments, personal injury and/or loss of life, damage to and destruction of
property and equipment and pollution or other environmental damage. These risks may also result in curtailment or suspension of our operations. A natural
disaster or other hazard affecting the areas in which we operate could have a material adverse effect on our operations. We are not fully insured against all risks inherent in our business. In addition, we are not insured against all environmental accidents that might occur, some of which may result in toxic tort claims.

If there was a salt cavern collapse similar to one that happened in the 1960s, the result would be nothing short of a catastrophe for the local residents, because there would be no compensation forthcoming in the way of insurance money.  The only recourse would be a “toxic tort claim” against Crestwood, which would result in costly litigation that would be far too expensive for an average resident to pursue.
And Crestwood is planning on taking the same cavern that experienced a 400,000 ton roof collapse fifty years ago, and filling it with pressurized natural gas.
So if the whole thing blows up in our faces, literally and figuratively, Crestwood can cut their losses and go home to Texas.  We don’t have that option.
This hasn’t stopped the pro-gas voices from characterizing the risk as minimal, and the people who are speaking out against Crestwood as crazy tree-huggers who have “drunk the Kool-Aid” and who are the victims of “imaginary delusions.”  These last phrases are direct quotes from one David Crea, an engineer for U.S. Salt, a company that is now owned by Crestwood.  Responsible, intelligent people, say Crea, couldn’t possibly be against gas storage in salt caverns; and he points out that a lot of the people who have been protesting the Crestwood Expansion are from the eastern half of Schuyler County, not the western half, where the facility is located.
Because, apparently, you have to live right on top of a disaster before you’re allowed to have an opinion about it.  This kind of illogic would claim that the objections of a woman in Oregon to the siting of a pesticide factory 400 yards away from an elementary school in Middleport, New York are irrelevant because “she doesn’t live there.”  (I didn’t make that up; read about the situation here, which resulted in dozens of children suffering from permanent lung damage.)
So sorry, Mr. Crea; it’s not the concerned locals who have “drunk the Kool-Aid.”  There’s not that much Kool-Aid in the world.  It’s the citizens you and your ilk have hoodwinked, and who now sit on top of a site that has a ridiculously high likelihood of catastrophic failure.  And if you multiply all of those risk factors together, you come up with a figure so large that you would have to be on Crestwood’s payroll to consider it acceptable.