In NY Tourist Haven, Arrests Continue at Methane Storage Project

Seneca Lake area residents are alarmed over storing methane and LP gas in underground caverns, and are risking arrest in protests.

Protest at the gates of Crestwood's Arlington methane storage facility in the Seneca Lake of New York in October 2014. Credit: Wendy Lynne Lee

Nine people were arrested Thursday near Seneca Lake, N.Y., for blockading the entrances of an energy facility owned by Crestwood Midstream Partners LP, which received federal approval this fall to expand its methane storage operations there.

Since protests began on Oct. 23, the earliest possible day the company could have kicked off construction, 92 people have been arrested. Many are from the local activist group We Are Seneca Lake.

Crestwood, a Texas-based company, received approval in late September from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand its Arlington Storage facility, which uses underground salt caverns to hold purified methane, a byproduct of fracking. Construction has not yet begun.

The company also has a pending application to store liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is mostly propane, on the same approximately 600-acre property, in existing underground salt caverns. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will conduct a hearing to determine the fate of this second project in February 2015.

 

According to a statement emailed to InsideClimate News by a Crestwood spokesman, "The Northeast LPG market lacks adequate pipeline infrastructure to serve propane consumers during peak winter demand. Our LPG storage project offers a safe, cost-effective market solution to this constraint that's less environmentally invasive than building new pipeline. We are committed to this shovel-ready storage project, just as we are committed to the safety of our employees and contractors and their ability to access" the Seneca Lake region.

Protesters are concerned about the potential for explosions at both the approved and the pending storage projects. Both methane and LPG can be highly explosive. There's also fear of potential leaks from the salt caverns into nearby Seneca Lake, one of the region's glacial Finger Lakes, and the surrounding area, a local vineyard and tourism hot spot.

"If something happens, we can't just pull our vineyards and move," said Paula Fitzsimmons, a physician's assistant turned local activist with We Are Seneca Lake; she was arrested earlier this week. Fitzimmons and her husband, who was also recently arrested, own a vineyard in the region.

Faith Meckley, another protester, told InsideClimate News, "We absolutely believe—and we know—[this facility] puts our lake at danger."

Meckley added that many opponents are also against this facility's expansion to store more purified methane because of the possible effect on climate change. Fracking is the controversial process of pumping chemicals, sand and water underground to crack open bedrock to extract fossil fuel reserves. Both drilling for and subsequently transporting methane, a potent greenhouse gas, result in emissions that could worsen to climate change.

Protest at the Arlington facility/Credit: Wendy Lynne Lee

 

In addition to the nine people arrested Thursday, 10 more were arrested earlier in the week. On Wednesday, Dec. 3, an arraignment was held for 20 protesters arrested in previous weeks. Fourteen paid a fine. The remaining six people refused and were jailed. The jail time for four of them will extend for 15 days.

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