Residents and business owners in the Finger Lakes region are calling for U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand along with President Barack Obama to intervene and halt a natural gas storage expansion plan on Seneca Lake.
A coalition consisting of 200 businesses, 60 wineries, 10 local governments and thousands of residents in the Finger Lakes region sent letters to the elected officials citing residents’ health and the health of Seneca Lake, which is a drinking water source for 100,000 people and critical to the local tourism economy.
Proposed by the Texas-based oil and gas corporation Crestwood-Midstream, the plan is to store natural gas in the salt caverns on the shores of Seneca Lake.
Although salt cavern storage represents only a small percentage of gas storage facilities, it’s responsible for a large portion of instances of catastrophic failure. In 2001, for example, natural gas traveled 7 miles from a salt cavern in Kansas where it migrated into in abandoned brine wells and exploded, killing two people, destroying buildings and evacuating residents.
Residents in the Finger Lakes are concerned because there are many abandoned brine wells just miles from the proposed facility in Watkins Glen. This could lead to either an explosion or water contamination, or both, according to the group Gas-Free Seneca.
“One accident at the proposed gas storage facility could tarnish the brand of the Finger Lakes and destroy the growing, sustainable economy that this region has spent generations building,” states the letter to senators Gillibrand and Schumer. “Additionally, the threat itself and its potential for contamination casts a dark cloud over the region’s tourism draw and potential future growth and investment.”
The group is arguing that when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted approval for the gas storage expansion at the Seneca Lake facility, they did so with little-to-no independent scrutiny.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has not made a decision yet but has raised concerns and announced it would hold an “issues conference” in the region.
“The proposed gas storage facility not only represents an increased investment in fossil fuel infrastructure that is counter to the spirit of [last week’s global] Climate Summit, but is a fundamental threat to the Finger Lakes region and its residents,” said Yvonne Taylor, co-founder of Gas Free Seneca.
Dr. Robert Mackenzie, former CEO of Cayuga Medical Center, conducted a quantitative risk analysis of the proposal that shows “the risk of an extremely serious catastrophic event from storing gas in these salt caverns, which were never engineered to store gas, is 35 percent over 25 years.”
Just recently, one of Crestwood-Midstream’s subsidiaries was responsible for a million-gallon brine spill in North Dakota which ended up in a bay that provides drinking water to a surrounding Native American reservation.
A call to Crestwood-Midstream has yet to be returned.
A subsequent incident could have potential consequences that would be devastating to the Finger Lakes region, which has not only been a top tourism destination for New Yorkers, but was included among the top 10 lake vacations in the world last year, according to Frommers, the largest travel magazine in the United States and Canada.
Also, the region has gained increased notoriety as a home to world-class wines, with acclaimed national and international recognition. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently highlighted the success of the state’s wine industry as a driver of the economy while at the Governor’s Cup Wine Competition, where a wine from Seneca Lake took home an award for the best wine in the state.
A recent report on the state’s grape and wine industry conducted by Stonebridge determined that it contributes $4.8 billion to the New York State economy every year, supporting the equivalent of 25,000 full-time jobs, paying over $408 million in taxes, and generating over 5.2 million wine-related tourism visits.