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.”