Dec 052014

Guest Viewpoint: Truth of Seneca Lake project hidden

My parents collected Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I read them all, discovering, only years later that “condensed” meant “abridged.” “Jane Eyre” was a darker tale than I knew.

Excising unpleasantries from literature is an old practice. To create The Family Shakespeare in 1818, publisher Thomas Bowdler eliminated prostitutes. Lady Macbeth cries, “Out, crimson spot!”

Such tamperings seem quaint, but the impulse to delete problematic truths is apparently alive and not confined to fiction.

In 2012, the Cuomo administration took an editorial hand to a report on methane in groundwater commissioned from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The result — as revealed by Capital New York’s Scott Waldman — was a version that downplayed the dangers of fracking and eliminated the topic of gas storage.

Happily, science has a way of prevailing. In the last two years, multiple independent studies have documented methane leakage from fracking operations. We now know the problem is more — not less — widespread than previously appreciated.

Also happily: This knowledge emerged within the context of a statewide moratorium on fracking. Nobody’s basement had to blow up to prove the point.

But there is no moratorium on underground storage. Hence, in the Finger Lakes — where abandoned, lakeside salt caverns are targeted by Houston-based Crestwood Midstream for a massive natural gas storage project — we find ourselves unprotected and at the mercy of bowdlerized science.

We know the 2011 draft of the USGS report raised red flags about underground storage of compressed gas. We also know that all reference to this problem was expunged from the final version.

It gets worse. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has now issued its own go-ahead for underground gas storage at Seneca Lake on the basis of findings that remain hidden from the public.

Crestwood has argued that key data about the structural integrity of these old salt caverns is proprietary information. Both FERC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation have complied with this request for secrecy.

Journalistic sleuthing — by Peter Mantius for DC Bureau — has uncovered old reports that document unstable geology within these caverns, while independent scientists have called for an end to secrecy, pointing to catastrophic fires and explosions within other salt caverns around the nation that were repurposed for gas storage.

Nevertheless, after consulting documents that we residents cannot see, federal regulators have announced that construction can start immediately — as reported by Gannett’s Ray Finger. Crestwood indicates it will begin on October 24.

This is unacceptable. The facts of science are not fictional passages that can be deleted, or hidden, at will. Our families are not characters in gilded books. Our safety should not be jeopardized by secrecy and censorship from state and federal agencies.

The Finger Lakes urgently appeal to President Barack Obama, Cuomo, and Sens.Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand for immediate help. Step in, publicly acknowledge the validity and gravity of the public health and economic objections, and stop this reckless project — before we lose what we cannot replace.

Steingraber is a biologist and co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking


 Posted by at 5:17 pm