The Banner, Vol. 3, No. 10 – What Empire Leaves Behind

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May 132017

March 7, 2017
The week was full of news of the intentions – and lack of attention – of imperial power wielded against people. It was a dreadful spectacle, but a bracing reminder that we are engaged in a timeless struggle with power, until the social paradigm is changed from one chiefly concerned with wielding power into a paradigm of working in acknowledgement that we are all interconnected – ‘interbeing’ to use Thich Nat Hanh’s phrase – with each other, all life, and that we are the Earth itself, not its stewards. Until then our work amounts, one way or another, to the relief of suffering.
But first the news.

Proposed SEQR Regulations: developers and SEQR-adverse agencies win, the environment and public lose

When a government agency talks about “streamlining” environmental regulations, and increasing “speed and efficiency” and “regulatory certainty for applicants and municipalities,” you can be certain that the effect (if not the conscious intent) will be decreased environmental protections and a reduction in the public’s ability to meaningfully participate in the decision-making process. That is precisely what will occur if the current version of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposed amendments to the State Environmental Quality Review Act’s regulations are adopted without significant changes.

The last thing New York should be doing is weakening its environmental review process when – on the national level – the Trump Administration is intent on repealing environmental regulations, weakening environmental enforcement, and allowing more fossil fuel production. [For example, see this and this.] If you agree that NYS should be strengthening, not undermining, its environmental laws, I urge you to analyze the proposed amendments to the SEQR regulations, submit written comments by May 19, 2017 to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Permits, Attn: James J. Eldred, Environmental Analyst, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233-1750 or by e-mail to:, and, if possible, participate at the public hearing to be held on March 31, 2017 at 1:00 pm at 625 Broadway, Albany, New York, Public Assembly Room 129.

…One need look no further than the “Needs and Benefits” statement in the DEC’s DGEIS to confirm what a reading of the proposed regulatory changes reflects: the primary motivation for the proposed amendments is to expand the “Type II” list…—Arthur J. Giacalone, “Proposed SEQR regulations: developers and SEQR-adverse agencies win, the environment and public lose,” With All Due Respect, 3/5/17


Independent power producer model is obsolete

Dive Brief:

  • NRG Energy lost almost $900 million last year, the result of lower power and gas prices along with a hefty “goodwill impairment charge.”
  • But despite the loss, the big news from the power producer’s earnings came from a comment made to journalists and financial analysts: Mauricio Gutierrez, NRG President and CEO, said the independent power producer model is “now obsolete and unable to create value over the long term.
  • The comments come more than a year after the company reorganized itself, splitting off its renewables and maintaining a fleet of almost 50,000 MW of fossil fuel generation.

Dive Insight:

That independent generators are under significant pressure from low prices in wholesale power markets is no longer news, but the NRG CEO put the situation particularly bluntly in his earnings call this week. 

“I want to reiterate my belief that the competitive power sector is in a period of unprecedented disruption,” Gutierrez told journalists and analysts. “I believe the IPP model is now obsolete and unable to create value over the long term.”

A big part of the problem is in Texas, where the company has significant operations. Growing wind energy, lower gas prices and the decline of coal has helped turn the IPP model on its head.

“Changes in fuel mix, consumer preference, technological innovation and increased distributed generation have put pressure on the traditional IPP model, particularly as commodity markets continue to weaken,” Gutierrez said. 

The company’s generation segment lost more han $500 million for the full year 2016, alongside renewables losses of more than $300 million. Only NRG’s retail segment showed a profit (about $1 billion).

Gutierrez said that looking ahead, the company expects to continue to streamline the business, focusing on strengthening the balance sheet and delivering value to shareholders.…— Robert Walton, “NRG CEO: Independent power producer model ‘obsolete’,” Utility Dive, 3/1/17


What Empire Leaves Behind

Confidential Dakota Pipeline Memo:
Standing Rock Not a Disadvantaged Community Impacted by Pipeline

Protesters sing during a march against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Credit: REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Pipeline builder claimed that mostly white Bismarck communities along its original route would have more minorities impacted than one near tribe’s reservation.

As the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was mounting opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline last spring, the pipeline company told federal officials that its final route skirting the reservation would not impact any minority or impoverished community.

A confidential environmental justice analysis comparing the original proposed route north of Bismarck and the final one upstream of the Standing Rock reservation was sent by Dakota Access LLC employees to senior officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Its counterintuitive findings appear to have been largely incorporated into the Corps’ final environmental assessment of the Standing Rock route last July, but weren’t given to the tribe or made public.

The 11-page memo, made available through court records, concludes that the pipeline’s original path near Bismarck would have “more direct and more disproportionate” impacts to minorities. Those communities surrounding Bismarck are 96 percent white and only 2 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

Click for full size chart

 Standing Rock by contrast ranks as one of the nation’s poorest communities. The project will run just over a half-mile upstream of the reservation under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir used by the tribe for drinking water, irrigation and fish. Three-quarters of its population is Native American and 40 percent of its 8,200 people live in poverty.  

The “route does not disproportionately affect low-income or impoverished populations,” the memo said.  

The document gets at the heart of the issues in ongoing lawsuits and demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline, which opponents believe was unjustly sited near the reservation. 

“They’ve gerrymandered the things they are comparing in the analysis to reach an absurd result, which is that the selection of the Oahe crossing instead of the Bismarck route doesn’t have environmental justice implications,” according to Jan Hasselman, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice. The organization is suing the Army Corps and Dakota Access on behalf of the Standing Rock tribe.

The main complaint is that the company excluded the reservation from the analysis as a result of how it chose census tract data.

“It seems that the analysis and methodology that was set up was designed intentionally to somehow minimize and mask the impacts of this project on the Standing Rock community,” said Robert Bullard, dean of Texas Southern University’s School of Public Affairs who is known as the “father of environmental justice.”

The memo is dated April 12, 2016, less than one month after the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies raised serious environmental justice and other objections to the Standing Rock route. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), agencies must consider environmental justice implications of major infrastructure projects.

“I have not seen anything like this,” said JoAnn Chase, director of the EPA’s American Indian Environmental Office under President Obama, referring to the Army Corps’ use of a confidential analysis. “This seems to run counter to everything that I believe is part of an informed process.”

The Interior Department’s top lawyer, solicitor Hilary Tompkins, issued a legal opinion in early December opposing the use of the memo in the analysis.

“The United States cannot fulfill its trust responsibility if it makes decisions with such potentially significant impacts on tribal treaty rights based on confidential, adversarial analysis that the opposing tribe cannot independently review,” Tompkins wrote.

The Trump administration suspended that opinion in February as it prepared to approve the pipeline and halt additional review.…—Phil McKenna, “Confidential Dakota Pipeline Memo: Standing Rock Not a Disadvantaged Community Impacted by Pipeline,” InsideClimate News, 3/6/17


EPA Scraps Methane Emission Reporting Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency has removed an Obama-era rule that requires oil and gas companies to report methane emissions from oilfields – a rule that had prompted complaints from 11 oil and gas-producing states that argued it required too much work.

The EPA’s new boss, climate change skeptic and former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said the change was effective immediately, adding he will go on to assess whether the additional information that EPA required from energy companies under its previous management is indeed necessary to collect.

Related reading: House scraps methane standards after Senate kills SEC rule

Pruitt commented that the withdrawal of the methane emission reporting rule was part of the new EPA’s efforts to improve its relationship with state governments. Environmentalist groups were quick to condemn the move, arguing that under Pruitt, the EPA will turn into an organization serving the oil and gas industry. Pruitt was a vocal opponent to EPA’s regulations over the last eight years.

The rule on methane emission reporting, part of efforts to combat climate change by reducing said emissions, was issued in a directive from the EPA in November last year. Besides these reports, the directive also called on 15,000 oil and gas companies to report the numbers and types of equipment at their onshore production sites.…—Irina Slav, “EPA Scraps Methane Emission Reporting Rule,” OilPrice, 3/3/17


Fracking or not, Albanian village to get compensation for damaged houses

Albanian villagers who accuse an energy company of damaging their homes by fracking will get full compensation, the country’s deputy prime minister said on Wednesday.

A group of the villagers from western Albania walked more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the capital Tirana and set up camp outside the energy ministry on Saturday to protest.

In a televised address, deputy prime minister Niko Peleshi said the villagers would get full compensation from the state budget and from the energy company, Bankers Petroleum, following an evaluation of the damage.

The protesters greeted the announcement with cheers of “Zharreza,” the name of the village with the most damaged homes.

Their leader, Qani Rredhi, said that out of 700 houses, 570 were damaged and 70 were not habitable.

“Since 2010 we have suffered earthquake tremors of high intensity at various times, usually at night, even 30 quakes a day,” he told Reuters.…—Benet Koleka, “Fracking or not, Albanian village to get compensation for damaged houses,” Reuters, 3/1/17


Thousands of spills at US oil and gas fracking sites

The study found that thousands of spills were reported at oil and gas fracking sites in four states. Getty Images.


The study found that thousands of spills were reported at oil and gas fracking sites in four states

Up to 16% of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill liquids every year, according to new research from US scientists.

They found that there had been 6,600 releases from these fracked wells over a ten-year period in four states.

The biggest problems were reported in oil-rich North Dakota where 67% of the spills were recorded.

The largest spill recorded involved 100,000 litres of fluid with most related to storing and moving liquids.

Higher numbers

The rapid growth in the extraction of oil and gas from unconventional sources in the US has had a massive impact on the production and consumption of energy over the past ten years.

The key to this expansion has been the use of hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting fluids with chemical additives under pressure to crack underground rock and release the trapped resources.

However, environmental campaigners have long been troubled by the potential for this process to contaminate water supplies and the environment through leaks and spills.

A study carried out by the US Environment Protection Agency on fracking in eight states between 2006 and 2012 concluded that 457 spills had occurred.

But this new study, while limited to just four states with adequate data, suggests the level of spills is much higher. The researchers found 6,648 spills between 2005 and 2014.

“The EPA just looked at spills from the hydraulic fracturing process itself which is just a few days to a few weeks,” lead author Dr Lauren Patterson from Duke University told BBC News.

“We’re looking at spills at unconventional wells from the time of the drilling through production which could be decades.”

The state reporting the highest level of spills was North Dakota, a hot bed of activity in both oil and gas recovery.

The data recorded 4,453 incidents in the state, much higher than Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Mexico.

This can be explained by reporting requirements. In North Dakota, any spill bigger than 42 US gallons has to be reported while in Colorado and New Mexico the requirement was 210 gallons.

Most of the spills occurred in the first three years of operation. Around 50% of spills were related to the storage and movement of fluids via pipelines. The underlying causes were difficult to determine because of different reporting requirements.

“The causes are quite varied,” said Dr Patterson.

“Equipment failure was the greatest factor, the loading and unloading of trucks with material had a lot more human error than other places.”

A surprising number of spills occurred at wells which had recorded a previous incident, over half in the case of North Dakota. This suggests that targeted inspections on these sites might have a significant impact in reducing spills.…—Matt McGrath, “Thousands of spills at US oil and gas fracking sites,” BBC News, 2/21/17


Behind Trump’s Push for ‘American Steel’ in Pipelines, Another Russian Company with Putin Ties Stands to Benefit

In his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week, President Donald Trump commemorated the one-month anniversary of his executive orders calling for the approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as one calling for U.S. pipelines to get their line pipe steel from U.S. facilities.

“I said, who makes the pipes for the pipeline?” Trump told the CPAC crowd. “If they want a pipeline in the United States, they’re going to use pipe that’s made in the United States, do we agree?”

But while the pipe may be made in the U.S., as DeSmog has shown in previous investigations, ownership tells a different story. Enter: TMK IPSCO, a massive producer of steel for U.S. oil country tubular goods (OCTG) and line pipe, and a subsidiary of TMK Group. A DeSmog investigation has found ties between TMK Group’s Board of Directors and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

TMK Group was incorporated in 2001, and in 2008, TMK IPSCO opened its doors as a U.S. subsidiary with a heavy focus on making oilfield pipes on behalf of companies performing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques in the Marcellus Shale basin located in the northeast U.S. TMK IPSCO, which has said it wants to be a direct competitor of U.S. Steel Corporation in the Marcellus, also makes steel for companies doing fracking in the Bakken Shale basin, located primarily in North Dakota.…—Steve Horn, “Behind Trump’s Push for ‘American Steel’ in Pipelines, Another Russian Company with Putin Ties Stands to Benefit,” DeSmogBlog, 2/28/17


Gauging the Carbon Cost of Fuel from Canadian Oil Sands

WELL TO WHEELS: Producing and burning fuel from Alberta oil sands creates about 20% more greenhouse gases than producing and burning fuel from U.S. conventional crude oil.

The oil sands of Canada’s Alberta province are one of the world’s largest oil reserves, currently producing the equivalent of 2 million barrels of crude oil per day. But it takes lots of energy to transform the heavy bitumen in the deposits, which is bound up with sand and clay, into diesel and gasoline. A new study presents a comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fuels from the oil sands—from extracting to shipping to refining to burning—and concludes that emissions are about 20% greater than those from fuels produced from conventionally extracted crude oil in the U.S. (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2015, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b01255).

Currently, only about 9% of crude oil processed by refineries in the U.S. comes from the Canadian oil sands, but analysts project that this share will grow in the future, especially if long-distance pipeline projects such as Keystone XL go forward. Researchers want to understand the carbon footprint of these fuels to help assess their impact on climate, and to track progress toward emission reduction targets. So Hao Cai of Argonne National Laboratory and his colleagues set out to determine the greenhouse gas emissions associated with all the steps involved in production and use of oil sands products refined in the U.S., often called a “well to wheels” life-cycle assessment.

Previous assessments have suffered from limited, proprietary data or were based on less energy-efficient oil production processes than those used today. In the new study, the researchers used publicly available monthly operations data from 27 oil sands projects between 2008 and 2012 and assessed emissions using a model developed at Argonne. The operations data allow the model to estimate emissions resulting from powering the machinery needed to extract oil from the sands, heating steam used in the process, and even from bacteria giving off carbon dioxide and methane in wastewater ponds.… —Deirdre Lockwood, “Gauging The Carbon Cost Of Fuel From Canadian Oil Sands,” Chemical & Engineering News, 6/22/15


Environmentalists urge French bank not to finance Texas fracking project

Rigging equipment is pictured in a field outside of Sweetwater, Texas. The French bank BNP Paribas has been urged not to support a fracking project in the state. Photograph: Cooper Neill/Reuters

Environmental groups have called on a French bank not to help finance a fracked-gas export terminal planned for south Texas.

A report released on Wednesday urges BNP Paribas and its US subsidiary, Bank of the West, to state it will not finance any projects for liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and to adopt a policy of not backing LNG export schemes. One of the proposals, the Texas LNG terminal, would be built on 1,000 acres of land, potentially making it the largest facility of its kind in the country.

“It’s a destructive fossil fuel infrastructure project in the Gulf coast in one of the relatively untouched parts,” said Jason Opeña Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network.

He said there “is some hypocrisy” in BNP’s involvement given that the company touts its green credentials. In the wake of the 2015 Paris agreement to address climate change, the bank said it was committed to responsible investment, such as financing renewable energy rather than coal mining, and minimizing atmospheric pollution as a result of its business activities.

France banned fracking in 2011 for environmental protection reasons. A spokeswoman for BNP’s US operation declined to comment on the report. Texas LNG did not respond to a request for comment.

Rebekah Hinojosa, an activist fighting the terminals, fears that construction would damage sacred Native American historical sites, harm endangered wildlife, tourism and the local shrimping industry and pollute and scar a relatively unscathed part of the coast, as well as threaten safety in the event of a disaster. Though proponents tout potential economic benefits for a deprived area, Hinojosa is concerned that the projects may ultimately cost more jobs than they create.

“That area is the beach of Texas. People come from all over the state and other nearby states to our beach because we are the last industrialized piece of coast along the Texas coastline,” she said. “It doesn’t have a refinery or smoke stacks on the horizon.”…—Tom Dart, “Environmentalists urge French bank not to finance Texas fracking project,” The Guardian, 3/2/17


State AGs Rally to Defend NY, Mass. Investigations of Exxon From Lamar Smith Subpoenas

A group of state attorney generals have lent their support to New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts’ Maura Healey in their fight against House Science Committee chair Lamar Smith’s subpoenas. Credit: Getty Images

A coalition of 15 Democratic state attorneys general has urged Congressman Lamar Smith to withdraw subpoenas sent to the AGs of Massachusetts and New York seeking records related to their investigations of ExxonMobil. In a letter to Smith sent Tuesday, the attorneys general argue the demand for documents interferes with the investigative authority of the states.

The attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York have ongoing investigations of Exxon under each state’s securities and consumer protection laws related to whether Exxon properly disclosed risks posed by climate change to the company’s business.

“Under the Constitution and the principle of comity that has been honored by Congress and federal courts since the Nation’s founding, the states’ attorneys general must be free to fulfill the responsibilitIes they owe to the people they serve, unimpeded by interference from a committee of Congress,” the AGs said in the letter.

Smith, a 15-term Texas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, first subpoenaed the Massachusetts and New York state AGs last July. He followed last month with a second subpoena seeking records that delve into the investigative strategy of the AGs, a tactic critics say is an attempt to shield Exxon from scrutiny.

Smith has said the attorneys general investigations amount to a crusade to silence alternative views of climate change, and that his probe is designed to protect the First Amendment rights of academic institutions, scientists and companies engaged in climate research. He has used his chairmanship to launch prior investigations questioning the work of climate scientists.  

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in July that they would not comply with the subpoenas.

In September, Smith extended his subpoena to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which had reportedly launched a related investigation into Exxon.  

At the same time, Smith also hit eight non-governmental environmental advocacy organizations with subpoenas, which demanded documents related to any discussions with the AGs regarding the Exxon investigations.…—Phil McKenna, “State AGs Rally to Defend NY, Mass. Investigations of Exxon From Lamar Smith Subpoenas,” InsideClimate News, 3/1/17


Oklahoma tribe sues oil companies in tribal court over earthquake

OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma-based Native American tribe filed a lawsuit in its own tribal court system Friday accusing several oil companies of triggering the state’s largest earthquake that caused extensive damage to some near-century-old tribal buildings.

The Pawnee Nation alleges in the suit that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the 5.8-magnitude quake in September and is seeking physical damages to real and personal property, market value losses, as well as punitive damages.

The case will be heard in the tribe’s district court with a jury composed of Pawnee Nation members.

“We are a sovereign nation and we have the rule of law here,” said Andrew Knife Chief, the Pawnee Nation’s executive director. “We’re using our tribal laws, our tribal processes to hold these guys account

            Related news: Earthquakes linked to natural gas fracking in Pennsylvania

Attorneys representing the 3,200-member tribe in north-central Oklahoma say the lawsuit is the first earthquake-related litigation filed in a tribal court. If an appeal were filed in a jury decision, it could be heard by a five-member tribal Supreme Court, and that decision would be final.

“Usually tribes have their own appellate process, and then, and this surprises a lot of people, there is no appeal from a tribal supreme court,” said Lindsay Robertson, a University of Oklahoma law professor who specializes in Federal Indian Law.…—Sean Murphy, “Oklahoma tribe sues oil companies in tribal court over earthquake,” GlobalNews Canada, 3/3/17


And That’s A Wrap! Thanks to all who have written these stories, posted them on their email groups, sent them in directly to us. Much news, good/bad/indifferent, keeps editors hard at work. Thanks! Send, along with budding amyrillis bulbs, to

We Are Seneca Lake Responds to FERC Approval of Extension for Gas Storage Permit

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May 172016


Contact: Lindsay Speer,

We Are Seneca Lake Responds to FERC Approval of Extension for Gas Storage Permit

Statement from Sandra Steingraber on behalf of We Are Seneca Lake


“At 6 p.m. on May 16, the Federal Emergency Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted a last-minute permit extension  giving Crestwood’s Arlington subsidiary another two years to expand its natural gas storage facility in decrepit salt caverns next to Seneca Lake in the heart of New York’s wine country.

“In so doing, FERC has enabled Crestwood to continue to pollute, risk calamity to water, air, and land, and deepen New York’s dependency on fossil fuels. Once again, FERC is putting the interests of fossil fuel companies over public welfare, climate, safety, and health.

“We Are Seneca Lake condemns this decision, which compels residents of the Finger Lakes to live with risks to which we did not consent. Crestwood is under investigation by the EPA for massive brine spills in North Dakota and has routinely violated its water quality permits for the U.S. Salt facility, adjacent to the Seneca Lake gas storage facility. Salt cavern storage accounts for only seven percent of total underground storage of natural gas in the United States but, since 1972, is responsible for 100 percent of the catastrophic accidents that resulted in loss of life.

“Tellingly, 99.1 percent of the public comments submitted to FERC’s docket expressed opposition to extending the permit (332 out of 335 comments). Of the three comments in favor of the extension, two came from Crestwood’s Arlington project itself.

“This dismissive, reckless decision comes only hours after more than 100 New Yorkers rallied outside the Consolidated Edison shareholders meeting in downtown Manhattan to demand that Con Ed back out of the deal to co-own the gas storage facility with Crestwood. And it took place on the same day that seven climate activists were arrested outside FERC headquarters in Washington DC while protesting the agency’s rubber stamp approval of fracked gas infrastructure projects of all kinds. Clearly, FERC’s rubber stamp is alive and well.

“We Are Seneca Lake remains committed to opposing gas storage at Seneca Lake. Our direct action campaign has continued strong for a year and a half and will continue as long as it has to. We won’t stop until Crestwood stops.”

#  #  #


 Posted by at 12:47 am

Paris Comes Homes to Seneca Lake

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Dec 172015

Paris Comes Homes to Seneca Lake

We Are Seneca Lake Red Line Blockade

Marking the One-Year Anniversary of the New York State Fracking Ban

December 17, 2015

Delivered by: Colleen Boland


Five days ago, I marched in the streets of Paris with 10,000 other people from around the world—including three other Seneca Lake Defenders, Lauren Eastwood, Sandra Steingraber, and Lee Ziesche.

And while we marched, ministers and heads of state from nearly every country on Earth were huddled in a room on the other side of the city. They were working to finalize the first global treaty that commits all nations to efforts to curb climate change.

It’s called the Paris Agreement; some call it the Paris Accord.

In that room, surrounded by high security, negotiators were redlining the draft agreement. Which is to say, they were making the final revisions and marking places in the text where further compromise was not acceptable.

Meanwhile, out on the streets, ordinary people like us were throwing down some red lines of our own.

The long strips of red cloth that stretched down Avenue de la Grande Armée showed that climate change is an emergency. These red lines showed that climate change is a crime against humanity. They showed that, no matter what the heads of state decided, we the people will never compromise in our efforts to bring an end to the fossil fuel era by mid-century.

These red lines show that we understand the urgency of the science, which makes clear that a shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 is the only path that limits warming to 1.5 degrees and leads to a reasonable shot at climate safety.

On top of these red lines, the Parisian marchers laid down red flowers. They represented the lives already lost by climate change and by the wars and acts of terror that an unstable climate feeds.

Here, today is our red line action at the gates of Crestwood.

With this red line laid down across Crestwood’s driveway, we declare that its plans to store fracked gases in abandoned salt caverns on Seneca Lake constitutes an emergency.

We declare that these plans threaten our water, our children, and our climate.

This red line is also a symbol of our resolve and uncompromising spirit as members of civil society. For the sake of life itself, we demand an immediate and just transition to renewable energy. Crestwood’s plans for gas storage expansion are an obstacle to that necessary future.

This red line also celebrates the one-year anniversary of New York’s ban on fracking, declared on December 17, 2014 while 28 Seneca Lake Defenders stood on this very spot.

This red line indicates that the fracking ban is not complete without a companion ban on fracking infrastructure, including a ban on proposed pipelines, compressor stations, and gas storage facilities.

This red line declares our solidarity with the people of Porter Ranch, California who have been evacuated from their homes due to a massive, ongoing leak of methane from an underground gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon. The red line protest in Porter Ranch, which took place last Sunday, is inspiration for our own here today.

This red line indicates immediacy. Our trigger for action will not wait for mass evacuation.

And these red carnations, laid on top of this red line, symbolize all those whose lives have already been lost to climate change. We know this death toll includes 71 fellow New Yorkers who died as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

And finally, with this red line we declare our intent—with renewed resolve—to protect life and prevent death. And to do so, we will stand in the way of fossil fuel expansion projects just as we have done for the past year and just as we do here today.

Vive la Seneca Lake!

 Posted by at 6:34 pm

Report from Schuyler County Legislature re: “deer season” comment

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Dec 012015

To the We Are Seneca Lake Community,

On Wednesday, November 18, County legislator Philip C. Barnes posted a comment on Facebook below a photograph of We Are Seneca Lake protesters that was part of our announcement of last Sunday’s Finger Lakes March for Climate Action in Watkins Glen. The comment read, “Remember Deer season starts Saturday.” 

To the steering committee, this warning was troubling. Whatever its intent, we felt that Mr. Barnes’ message could function as an veiled incitement to others to consider violence against us and was inappropriate coming from an elected official. To joke on social media about climate protestors meeting with stray bullets in downtown Watkins Glen—just days after events in Paris—was, to us, reckless and offensive.

We write now to share with you what steps we have taken and to report the response we’ve received.

First, we asked Mr. Barnes, on Facebook, to explain his remarks. He did not. Instead, he posted additional comments whose meaning was unclear. (One referenced “capacity numbers.”) With that, we blocked Mr. Barnes from commenting further on our Facebook posts and hid his comments from other Facebook users. We also registered a complaint about his comment with Facebook, contacted the Watkins Glen police, and registered a complaint with Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, as well as with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. An individual who felt personally threatened contacted the FBI.

On Friday, November 20, the steering committee wrote a letter asking the Schuyler County Legislature to censure Mr. Barnes for his comment. We further asked that Mr. Barnes both apologize and issue a public statement that makes clear that he condemns violence, as well as the making of violent threats, against peaceful protesters.

This letter is posted on our website:

On Tuesday, November 24, Daryl Anderson, Sandra Steingraber, and Mariah Plumlee attended a scheduled meeting of the legislature and, during the public comment period, reiterated the request of our letter and asked for an explanation of Legislator Barnes’ comments.

Mr. Barnes told us that he has multiple Facebook accounts and that he had thought, when he posted his original and subsequent remarks as replies to our Facebook announcement, that he was communicating with his brother.

Mr. Barnes also said that his comment to us about “capacity numbers” was “about the capacity of Gitmo” and the possibility that “maybe we could put the refugees there until we could properly vet them before we let them out around the country.”

Mr. Barnes closed his statement with a verbal warning to us: “Now if you folks want to continue, I will set up appointments for you to be deposed, and if anybody has any mental anguish over this… then I want their doctors to post deposition too. And we’ll go from there.”

Legislator Halpin opined, “As far as I’m concerned, you put things on social media, things are going to happen. And if you use social media, you better realize that. Things are going to happen. But people reading social media are also going to have to accept that things can happen, so I don’t see how the legislature has a responsibility to you all…. Frankly, I think the whole world is too afraid of too many things today.”

In short, our concerns that words can have unintended effects of incitement, regardless of intent, were discounted.

Both Mr. Barnes and County Administrator Tim O’Hearn urged us to report back to the We Are Seneca Lake community the explanation we received from Mr. Barnes (namely, his claim that his comments to us were misdirected) and to relay that we had received “reassurance” from the legislature.

While reassurance is not what we feel, we did agree to pass along a report of this public conversation to the We Are Seneca Lake community. Thus, we attach here links to the audio file of the 30-minute public comment period, along with a verbatim written transcript.


Audio file:



We leave it up to readers to judge the measure of Mr. Barnes’ comments and decide for themselves whether public safety is his priority.


Kind regards,

The We Are Seneca Lake Steering Committee

 Posted by at 10:58 am

Letter to Schuyler County Legislators regarding Barnes

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Nov 232015

November 20, 2015

Dear Schuyler County legislators,

I write on behalf of the non-profit group We Are Seneca Lake, which opposes the expansion of methane gas storage in Seneca Lake salt caverns.

We are alarmed by a comment made on Facebook by Schuyler County legislator Philip C. Barnes on November 18. As a response to our posting a photo of gas storage protesters along with an announcement of a (peaceful and lawful) march through downtown Watkins Glen on Sunday, November 29, Legislator Barnes posted this reply beneath our photo:

“Remember Deer season starts Saturday.” 

A screenshot of this exchange appears below.

Please note also that the link provided in our post explains that our march will take place on the eve of the climate talks in Paris and, as such, is one of thousands of climate marches that are taking place around the world on that date and show solidarity with the people of Paris. Due to a declared state of emergency, climate activists not allowed to march in Paris.

We feel threatened by Mr. Barnes’ warning and do not understand its intent. Regardless of what Mr. Barnes may have meant by his comment, we feel that his words may function as an incitement to others to consider violence against us.

At the very least, Mr. Barnes’s words are highly inappropriate for an elected official who is sworn to uphold public safety. To joke about climate protestors meeting with stray bullets on social media—in the wake of recent and ongoing events in Paris—is reckless and offensive.

It is not credible to us that Mr. Barnes merely intended his words as friendly advice. As we clearly noted in our post, we are marching through downtown Watkins Glen. Our route does not take us through the woods or in any rural area. Mr. Barnes could not possibly believe a reference to deer season is relevant to our plans.

We ask the legislature to censure Mr. Barnes for these comments. We further ask that Mr. Barnes both apologize to us and issue a public statement that makes clear that he condemns violence, as well as the making of violent threats, against peaceful protesters.

We request that these actions be taken as soon as possible and prior to our march on Sunday, November 29.

Here are the steps we have taken so far:  We have blocked Mr. Barnes from commenting on our Facebook posts and hidden his comments to us from other Facebook users; we have registered a complaint about his comment with Facebook; we have contacted the Watkins Glen police; we have registered a complaint with Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn; and we have registered a complaint with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. An individual who felt personally threatened has also contacted the FBI.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions that you might have. This email also copies Sheriff Yessman.


Sandra Steingraber


 Posted by at 9:26 pm

A Benefit for We Are Seneca Lake Nov. 8, 2015

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Nov 032015

A Benefit for We Are Seneca Lake

Sunday, Nov 8, 2015 (3:00-7:00 pm)

The Rongovian Embassy

One W. Main St, Trumansburg, NY 14886

  • Get updates on We Are Seneca Lake
  • Learn how to use the You Are Here map to connect with the larger movement against fracking infrastructure buildout in the Northeast
  • Hear great music by Colleen Kattau & Dos XX, winners of Grassroots Festival’s band contest of 2013. Put on your dancin’ shoes!
  • Leave with great Raffle prizes or Silent Auction items (great for holiday gifts!)
  • $20 at the door gets you a raffle ticket. This is a suggested donation; no one will be turned away.
  • All proceeds go to We Are Seneca Lake’s legal defense fund

3:00-4:30 pm: “The Big Picture: Seneca Lake Gas Storage & Fracking Infrastructure”

Find out what other groups are doing across NY and PA to fight buildout of new pipelines, compressor stations, expanded storage and increased transportation of fossil fuels.

Don’t miss this lively, interactive presentation including a slideshow and skills-building workshop. Maps can be a powerful tool for communicating the “big picture” of gas buildout. Sane Energy Project and Clean Air Council are teaming up to offer Train the Trainers so everyone can use the “You Are Here” map as a communication tool to connect our communities. That way, we can build our great movement from the bottom up for genuine system change to a community-owned renewable economy.


4:30-4:45 pm: Updates on We Are Seneca Lake

4:45-6:55 pm: Music by Colleen Kattau & Dos XX

  • Colleen Kattau combines music and activism. Pete Seeger said of her, “She’s a great singer and organizer at the same time.” Colleen’s bio:
  • Dos XX offer Gringa grooves from the heart. The band is a Latin-fem-folk fusion of trilingual originals and songs in Spanish, French, and English. The fusion combines Zell’s blues bent with Walters’s and Kattau’s passion for world music rhythms to create music that leaps out of the ordinary and gets audiences moving. Winners of the Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance band contest in 2013, they’ve been featured performers at the PanAfrican Village State Fair Stage, and perform throughout the Northeast.

6:55-7:00 pm: Closing remarks


Why do we need to fundraise?

October 23, 2015 marked the first anniversary of We Are Seneca Lake!  Thanks to you, we’ve accomplished a lot. We have:

  • Expanded our movement to include thousands of supporters
  • Maintained a presence at Crestwood’s gates, regardless of the weather, for nearly a year
  • 400 citizen arrests, resulting in over 100 dismissals “in the interests of justice,” so far
  • Attracted consistent regional and national press
  • Targeted our elected officials through banners at the gates, social media, online petitioning and thousands of letters

Now we’re asking for your help to keep our campaign going. We Are Seneca Lake consists of activists, supporters, steering members, and pro-bono attorneys. All are volunteers, with one exception: Sujata Gibson’s paralegal, Guillaume Phillippe, processes legal documents and correspondence for hundreds of Defenders. Since January, we’ve paid $3,000 a month to support Guillaume’s work for WASL. In addition, 284 cases are still pending, so we expect this expense to continue for at least six more months — even longer as we generate new cases. All Defenders who put their bodies on the line to protect Seneca Lake incur a potential financial risk of up to $375, should they be found guilty. Accordingly, we set aside a portion of our funds to help those who may not be able to pay the full cost of their fines. Other expenses we have include materials for blockade banners; WASL T-shirts and buttons; brochure printing; photocopying form letters to elected officials; and supporting brave Defenders who stand for hours at Crestwood’s gates with nourishment and hand and foot warmers.

Here’s how you can help us continue our historic campaign to keep Seneca Lake free of gas storage:

  • Click the “Donate” button (top right on home page of or send a check to: We Are Seneca Lake, PO Box 914, Trumansburg, NY 14886
  • Ask your friends to donate, then “join us” (new tab!) on our website
  • Attend our fundraiser with family and friends on Sunday, November 8th
  • Forward our Announcement to your circles; share the event on social media
  • Can you donate an item to our Silent Auction? Ask your friends to do the same! Contact Margie Rodgers <>.
  • Volunteer to help promote our fundraiser; put up posters in your town; set up, clean up, etc. Contact Jan Quarles <>.

We Are Seneca Lake is a unique campaign. Whereas the typical direct action is short-lived, we have kept our voices raised for a whole year. It’s a citizens’ movement, and it belongs to the community, so it can only succeed if everyone participates. All of your contributions — large and small — will keep us going. And together, we will WIN.  Thank you, in advance, for your support.


In friendship and solidarity,

Jan Quarles and Margie Rodgers, for the steering committee of We Are Seneca Lake


We Are Seneca Lake is a registered non-profit, non-charitable organization in NY State. Due to the nature of its civil disobedience campaign, donations are not tax-deductible.

 Posted by at 2:40 am

Bird Watchers Blockade at Crestwood Midstream

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May 122015


Media Contact: Sandra Steingraber | 607.351.0719



                Bird Watchers Blockade at Crestwood Midstream


Protesters Call for Halt to Gas Storage Expansion at Seneca Lake and for Protection of Important Flyway for Migrating Birds 


Watkins Glen, NY – In an act of civil disobedience—and accompanied by a human-sized yellow-bellied sapsucker and an eight-foot indigo bunting puppet—six binocular-wielding bird watchers blockaded both entrances of Crestwood Midstream on Route 14 for six hours today. Protesters held a banner that said, “Birds Against Crestwood, Defending Our Habitat.” No arrests were made.

A dozen other Finger Lakes residents rallied along Route 14, wearing bird masks and holding signs and banners.

The protesters birdwatched while blockading and counted more than 30 species during their blockade. Highlights included a bald eagle and a Tennessee warbler. Using the cell phone app called Birdlog, the civil disobedients fed their birding data into bird, a worldwide, online database where birders can enter their sightings.

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 storage expansion in lakeside salt caverns and which has been ongoing since October 2014.

The total number of arrests is 251 in the seven-month-old civil disobedience campaign.

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.

Seneca Lake is a key stopover on the Atlantic flyway for migrating waterfowl and songbirds. It offers many habitats and is world-renowned for birdwatching.

According to the National Audubon Society, half of all North American bird species are now at risk for extinction due to climate change.

Protester and marketing analysis Jonathan Cook, age 43, of Trumansburg in Tompkins County, said, “Every spring and autumn I love to watch the migrating birds. Seneca Lake is a major flyway for migration. We have to treat the Finger Lakes with respect. We can’t risk contaminating this lake with gas or brine.”

Protester and public artist Dan Burgevin, age 68, of Trumansburg in Tompkins County, said, “One in two bird species is on the path to extinction due to fossil fuels. Song birds and warblers are chief among them. And methane, which is what Crestwood wants to compress and store here, is one of the most powerful climate change gases. I have two great-grandchildren. For them to never hear the sound of a yellow throated warbler is a tragedy. DIrty gas storage at Seneca Lake is part of the climate tragedy. I am here to change the tragic story.”

Those blockading today were:

Dan Burgevin, 68, Trumansburg, Tompkins County

Jonathan Cook, 43, Trumansburg, Tompkins County

Martha Fischer, 58, Enfield, Tompkins County

Richard Hoyt, 65, Geneva, Ontario County

Frank Potter, 72, Big Flats, Chemung County

Regi Teasley, 63, Ithaca, Tompkins County

Read more about the protesters at:


Read more about widespread objections to Crestwood’s gas storage plans:


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

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

#  #  #

 Posted by at 4:41 pm

“We Are Seneca Lake” Song by Edith O. McCrea

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Jan 262015

“We Are Seneca Lake”

by Edith O. McCrea



Oh, Seneca Lake, it’s might fine

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

We turn the water into wine

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake


And people come from near and far

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

To see how beautiful we are

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake


Now, don’t pump fuel down the old salt mine

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

Or you’ll turn clean water into dirty brine

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake


That fuel explodes like TNT

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

And that’ll be the end of you and me

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake


Now Seneca Lake, it’s deep and long

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

And Seneca Lake, it’s brave and strong

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake


We’ve come together to take a stand

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

And fight for the right to a safe, clean land

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake


Our enemy’s big, but we are stronger

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

‘Cause we’ve been here ten-thousand years longer

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake


Oh, Seneca Lake, it’s might fine

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

We turn the water into wine

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake


And people come from near and far

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake

To see how beautiful we are

We are [clap, clap] Seneca Lake



 Posted by at 8:59 pm

Wall Street Journal: Gas-storage plans in NY’s Finger Lakes draw outcry

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May 062013

Reposted from The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2013

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, frequented by tourists for its vistas, recreation and vineyards, is dotted with caverns left behind a century ago when the area was a major salt-producing region. Now, an energy company is eyeing those caves as ideal spaces for storing natural gas, upsetting opponents who are trying to prevent a resurgence of industry to what they call an environmental gem.

The plans call for six new rail spurs to handle 24 propane tanker cars every 12 hours. A round-the-clock cycle of trains and tanker trucks seven days a week would bring propane in and out of the facility. Four 700-horsepower compressors would be built, and two open brine ponds would be placed on a hillside above Seneca Lake.

Opponents say the industrial site and related heavy traffic will harm the wine and tourism industries that flourish around the Finger Lakes, a necklace of fjord-like lakes south of Rochester. An accident at the brine ponds could pollute Seneca Lake, which supplies drinking water to 100,000 people.

The critics also fear accidents like the gas explosion and fire that burned for six days at a salt storage facility in Moss Bluff, Texas, in 2004, or the massive sinkhole over a collapsed salt-dome gas-storage site in Louisiana in August that forced the evacuation of 350 people.

“Protecting our kids, making sure they have a future: It seems to be a basic part of our job description,” biologist Sandra Steingraber wrote in a blog post from the jail she was sent to last month for blocking access to the salt cavern. She and two others chose to go behind bars for a week rather than pay a fine of $375.

She likened civil disobedience against the fossil fuel industry to the anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements and often mentions her two children as the inspiration for her environmental activism. She implored other mothers to join her.

Steingraber and a coalition of groups called Don’t Frack New York have collected more than 3,000 signatures on a “Pledge to Resist Fracking,” which says signers will engage in “non-violent acts of protest” if Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifts a 5-year-old moratorium on shale gas development in the state.

Companies have been solution-mining salt beside Seneca Lake for more than a century. The process involves drilling about 2,000 feet down into a salt formation left by an ancient sea. Water is injected to dissolve salt, creating brine that’s evaporated to yield salt. The caverns left behind make ideal storage spaces for natural gas and propane, and previous owners have used the Seneca Lake salt caverns for gas storage for decades.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says depleted gas fields account for the vast majority of the nation’s 410 underground storage facilities. But most new storage facilities built since 2007 have been salt caverns, which are strong and impervious to gas.

Inergy Midstream, based in Kansas City, Mo., wants to build a natural gas storage and transportation hub in the Northeast with connections to the Dominion and Millennium interstate pipelines. The gas, propane and butane stored in the salt mines would likely come from conventional drilling, as well as shale gas drilling using high-volume fracking.

Inergy bought the U.S. Salt plant on Seneca Lake, 2 miles north of Watkins Glen, in 2008 and announced plans to use depleted salt caverns to store liquid propane gas that is pumped into the open spaces. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to decide on the company’s environmental impact study soon.

Inergy Midstream said via email: “Propane and natural gas have been stored safely in this region for decades, and we look forward to building upon the established track record of safe hydrocarbon storage in this region while creating jobs, lowering energy prices for area residents, and helping to support the local economy.”

Inergy’s subsidiary, Arlington Storage Co., is seeking permission from the department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand an existing natural gas storage project in the salt formation. Inergy also continues to mine high-quality salt at the site.

Two residents formed Gas Free Seneca when details of the plans began to emerge. The first public forum, in April 2011, was attended by about 500 people, said Joseph Campbell, who had recently built a lakefront home.

Some in the community supported the project in recent letters to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Chris Franzese, owner of the Villager Motel in Watkins Glen, said it would create jobs, generate tax revenues and strengthen the local economy. Jamie Wade, owner of a local fuel company, said it would create a reliable, affordable source of propane in Schuyler County, where more than 20 percent of residents rely on propane for heating and cooking.

Michael Dineen, 64, was one of the three activists jailed. He said he’s not normally one to protest but was moved to action as landowners surrounding his 63-acre organic farm signed gas-drilling leases and Inergy came in with its expansion plans.

“I feel strongly that somebody has to step forward,” Dineen said. “Going to jail shows I really mean it. I don’t want this company in my community.”

—Copyright 2013 Associated Press