Gas storage opponents asked to risk arrest

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Dec 052014

Gas storage opponents asked to risk arrest

WATKINS GLEN Opponents of a gas storage facility near Seneca Lake have been asked to be willing to be arrested for their cause.

More than 300 opponents of a plan by Texas-based Crestwood Midstream, an energy company, to store liquefied petroleum gas and natural gas in underground salt caverns in the Town of Reading protested Monday at the site of the storage facility on state Route 14 along Seneca Lake.

Sandra Steingraber, co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York and distinguished scholar in residence in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College, told the gathering near Route 14 that the lake is the source of drinking water, as well as the micro-climate that allows wine grapes to thrive.

“We turn water into wine with this lake. That’s what we do,” she said. “This lake is not the Houston Shipping Channel, and you, Crestwood, are a dangerous trespasser into our home, and we are asking you to leave.”

Steingraber asked protestors to consider making a solemn commitment and take a pledge to protect Seneca Lake.

“To not only pursue all possible avenues and turn over all possible stones, write all possible letters, make all possible phone calls but, if necessary, to use your bodies and your voices in the American tradition of civil disobedience to show the world that we New Yorkers can’t be messed with,” she said, drawing cheers.

Crestwood Midstream wants to store the two different types of gas in depleted salt caverns along Seneca Lake. Proponents say it will bring new revenue into the area while others, including environmentalists and winery owners, say it poses a threat to the lake, which provides drinking water, and traffic generated by the industry would be disruptive to tourism and the area’s wine industry.

Steingraber said Crestwood told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week that it would begin construction Monday on a compressor station to pressurize natural gas for the salt caverns, with pipelines and drill rigs to follow in October. That was after the state Department of Environmental Conservation essentially issued a restraining order on Crestwood’s plans to store liquefied petroleum gas at Seneca Lake, she said.

“There’s a cynical swapping out of one gas for another to do an end run around the decision to call a temporary halt to this practice, showing, what we are arguing, is a flagrant disregard to the will of the people of science, of local elected officials, business owners, wineries and maybe even the DEC itself,” Steingraber said.

Crestwood, however, described the situation differently, and noted it can’t begin construction to enlarge its natural gas facility until it receives the federal agency’s approval to do so.

In a formal statement issued Monday afternoon, Crestwood responded: “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently authorized a small expansion of our Seneca Lake natural gas storage facility. The FERC order authorizing the expansion requires us to file an implementation plan for the environmental and engineering conditions contained in the order. We filed our implementation plan last week, and we cannot commence construction until the FERC approves our plan.”

FERC regulates natural gas, while the DEC regulates liquefied petroleum gas.

On Aug. 11, the DEC said it wants to hear further arguments on the legal and safety aspects of the liquefied petroleum gas project before it issues a permit allowing it. Crestwood, under the subsidiary name of Finger Lakes LPG Storage, has proposed to build a new underground LPG storage facility to store and distribute propane and butane on a portion of a 576-acre site on state Routes 14 and 14A, west of Seneca Lake.

An administrative judge would hear arguments as a so-called “issues conference” to define the significant points of dispute.

Opponents called U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and President Barack Obama for help in reversing FERC’s regulatory decision and on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens to help in any way they can.

William Ouweleen, co-owner of O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards on Hemlock Lake in the Rochester area, offered an invitation to a “Save Seneca Lake” letter-writing party event from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Eagle Crest.

During the event, the vineyard will provide wood-fired pizza, wine tastings, music and tours of the winery, and volunteers to help submit letters to elected officials opposing the gas storage, he said.

“I’m here today as a concerned citizen and longstanding member of the Finger Lakes wine community to express our grave concern and strong objections to the proposed gas storage facility in the abandoned salt caverns along Seneca Lake,” Ouweleen said Monday.

Dr. Rob Mackenzie, who recently retired as president and chief executive officer of Cayuga Medical Center and lives in Hector, N.Y., said he spoke as a private citizen in discussing his findings in which he used public petrochemical data that is available online.

He said he found the risk over 25 years is about 35 percent for an extremely serious or catastrophic salt cavern facility disaster, such as fire with explosion, deaths with multiple injuries, temporary or permanent evacuation and major property loss. The riskiest caverns are older ones with geology like Schuyler’s, he said.

Combining the hazards of transporting liquefied petroleum gas, Mackenzie said he found the overall risk over 25 years to be 42 percent, he said.

“The only way to significantly reduce these risks is to not store volatile fuels in Schuyler County’s salt caverns,” he said. “Based on this analysis, I agree with Gas Free Seneca’s position that Crestwood should not start construction for further gas storage.”

 Posted by at 5:07 pm

Schuyler community reacts to plans for LPG conference

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Dec 052014

Schuyler community reacts to plans for LPG conference

The DEC announced Monday it will hold a conference with key parties about the proposal to store liquid propane and butane in Town of Reading, Schuyler County.

Opponents of a proposed liquefied petroleum gas storage facility in the Town of Reading were happy to hear the state say it will listen some more to the debate about using depleted salt caverns north of Watkins Glen for the project.

The Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday afternoon announced it will ask an administrative law judge to hear further comments on the Crestwood Midstream Partners project.

“DEC will not grant a permit unless it can be demonstrated that the permit is in compliance with all legal requirements and that the proposed activity can be done safely in New York State,” according to anotice on its website.

The announcement was good news for the project’s opponents.

“This is a great thing,” said Sylvia Fox, a Town of Reading resident, to Schuyler County legislators Monday night.

“It gives me hope that our state government is listening to us,” Fox said, but she and several other speakers at the session said local lawmakers are not listening, and they repeated their plea that the legislature rescind its June vote that supported the gas storage project.

“Step back. Let’s redo this whole thing,” said Paul Wehrung, of Burdett. “It’s too serious to let it go the way it’s going.”

“There’s no good purpose with passing a resolution that shuts people out and that limits debate,” said Legislator Michael Lausell, D-Hector, who has opposed the gas storage project. “A lot of people in this county feel that they’re not being listened to.”

The administrative judge will hear from DEC staff, Crestwood and any group or individual who files a petition for party status. No date or location for the process was announced.

Known as an “issues conference,” the purpose is to define significant and substantive points of dispute, according to the DEC. An adjudicatory hearing to litigate disputed issues could follow.

David Crea, an engineer at U.S. Salt in Watkins Glen, which is owned by Crestwood, said people involved in the project have known for some time that DEC staff finished its review of the project in April 2013 and recommended approval.

Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan has said he has been told the same by an insider in the DEC.

The issues conference will be “a spectacle that will rival NASCAR,” Crea said, describing it as a tactic to help Gov. Andrew Cuomo delay making a decision until after the November gubernatorial election.

Crestwood issued a statement Monday expressing its disappointment in the DEC’s decision, which comes five years into the permitting process:

“… The review process has been extensive and thorough, and the department has confirmed it has all of the information required to make a decision later this year. This shovel-ready project has been designed to achieve the highest safety and environmental standards, will add significant tax base to local economies, and will help local consumers avoid paying more than they should for propane supplies during the winter months.”

Crestwood, under the subsidiary name of Finger Lakes LPG Storage, has proposed to build a new underground LPG storage facility to store and distribute propane and butane on a portion of a 576-acre site on state Routes 14 and 14A, west of Seneca Lake. The storage facility would utilize existing caverns in the Syracuse salt formation created by US Salt and its predecessors’ salt production operations.


 Posted by at 5:05 pm

Marcellus Watch: Fagan engineers the facts on LPG facility

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Dec 052014

The truth-benders from the Texas oil patch who want to use old salt caverns next to Seneca Lake to store petroleum products can count on Dennis Fagan, chairman of the Schuyler County Commission. He runs interference for them, wielding company talking points to brush aside mounting dissent in Watkins Glen.

On June 9 Fagan rammed through the Schuyler commission his resolution supporting Houston-based Crestwood’s plan to store highly pressurized liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, in two rubble-filled caverns.

Supporters with Crestwood T-shirts cheered him on, many of them company employees. At least twice as many local residents fumed, and a few burst with outrage. Not all the crowd could squeeze into the hearing room where Fagan held forth.

Fagan is a professional engineer, a fact he is always quick to disclose. He’s taken it upon himself to see that Schuyler is the only one of the four counties surrounding Seneca Lake that doesn’t oppose Crestwood’s plan.

Seneca County Supervisor Steve Churchill recently dared question Fagan about the structural integrity of Well 58, where Crestwood plans to store liquid butane. Fagan set him straight in a June 13 letter, categorically declaring that Well 58’s roof never collapsed. Any evidence or conclusions to the contrary are “erroneous,” he wrote.

For years now, Crestwood and Inergy, its predecessor company and merger partner in 2013, have schemed to hide that very evidence. Now that it’s come to light, Fagan has joined the company’s sock puppet ensemble to try to discredit it.

Here are the facts, based on documents. In January 2001, an engineer who’d studied dozens of the Watkins Glen caverns over many years determined that Well 58’s roof had collapsed. Larry Sevenker reported that the cavity was “unusable” for hydrocarbon storage, and he recommended that it be plugged and abandoned. His supervisor at U.S. Salt agreed, as did the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the well was plugged two years later.

On Jan. 17, 2001, nine days after Sevenker had first raised alarms about Well 58, a series of explosions triggered by leaks from a salt cavern gas storage facility in Kansas killed two people and forced mass evacuations. DEC officials fretted about similarities between the Hutchinson, Kan., facility and the U.S. Salt cavern cluster and demanded details on Well 58 and others.

Fast forward to late 2008. As the oil patch grew dizzy over the potential of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, Inergy bought U.S. Salt to store its byproducts. A company official told the trade press the site was ideal because it had dozens of abandoned caverns and ample disposal options for excess brine. As the company drilled and tested for exploitable cavern space between 2010 and 2012, it violated its permit to dump brine into Seneca Lake for 12 straight quarters.

In 2010 it redrilled Well 58. Lo and behold, tests “proved that no roof collapse had occurred in 2001,” to quote Fagan’s letter to Churchill.

But if Well 58’s roof never collapsed, who can explain documents that show a rubble pile 217 feet high at the bottom of its cavern? Did the walls collapse? Did the rubble simply erupt?

Well 58 was drilled to 2,642 feet in 1992. Nine years later, Sevenker noted extensive shale and salt rubble and measured the cavern floor at 2,478 feet. So the rubble pile was 164 feet deep. When Inergy analyzed the well in 2010, it reported: “Top of rubble pile, bottom of existing cavern = 2,425 feet.” So another 53 feet of rubble had accumulated between 2001 and 2010.

After Sevenker’s analyses became public in 2013, an Inergy official phoned him at home in Louisiana to help him draft a letter recanting. Sevenker, still on the company’s payroll as a consultant, went along.

“U.S. Salt has since provided me with two more recent sonars showing a completely different profile of the cavern — one not filled with rubble, but rather normal looking,” he wrote, under Inergy’s direction. The company then hired a PR firm to circulate the company’s words repackaged as Sevenker’s recantation.

I’ve interviewed Sevenker half a dozen times. He lacks Fagan’s bluster and certainty. He told me he made mistakes in his 2001 analysis, but he added that the rock and salt layers that make up the cavern roofs and walls collapse all the time. Little chunks, big chunks, giant chunks. That’s why all the caverns at U.S. Salt have rubble piles.

Those facts are inconvenient for Crestwood officials, and they need to be managed. But that’s what lawyers are for.

Last year, when Crestwood’s subsidiary, Arlington Storage, was applying to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to store natural gas in a cavern adjacent to Well 58, FERC asked Arlington officials whether they were aware of any roof or wall collapses in any salt caverns on the U.S. Salt property.

The company’s answer: “To Arlington’s knowledge, there have been no cavern roof failures in Galleries 1 or 2, or in any other cavern within the Watkins Glen Brine Field in which natural gas or natural gas liquids have been stored.”

If that statement was not an outright lie, it artfully sidestepped the facts. But FERC never pressed the point, even after learning it had been toyed with.

FERC’s own public file on Arlington’s application contained documents detailing a 400,000-ton roof collapse in the very cavern that Arlington will use to store natural gas. They included cross-section diagrams of the cavern before and after the aircraft carrier-sized block of rock fell from the cavern’s roof.

But FERC caved, approving Arlington’s gas storage application in May without ever admitting its own disgraceful lack of rigor. Now its the DEC’s turn to rule on the company’s LPG storage application.

• Peter Mantius is a freelance journalist from Schuyler County who follows shale gas drilling issues. He is a former reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and editor of two business weeklies in the Northeast. This is an opinion column.

 Posted by at 5:01 pm