Cite M.L. King on ‘Urgency of Now,’ Accept Arrest
The ongoing civil disobedience campaign against underground gas storage at Seneca Lake continued in early 2016 with a series of human blockades at Crestwood Midstream’s facility near Watkins Glen.
A New Year’s protest in early January, a Martin Luther King Day tribute to the power of direct action, and a blockade by veterans late in the month led to 26 arrests, bringing the total since the campaign began to nearly 500.
During most recent blockades at Crestwood, participants called attention to the consequences of poorly regulated underground gas storage in the Porter Ranch community in California. There, a leaking gas storage well has caused severe air pollution and driven thousands of families from their homes.
Seneca Lake protestors proclaim solidarity with victims of Porter Ranch
Eleven veterans representing all branches of the U.S. armed forces were among 13 arrested on Jan. 26. Their protest was part of We Are Seneca Lake’s campaign, in which members periodically block all traffic entering and leaving the facility.
Among the Jan. 26 group was former NY gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins (Green Party), a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Hawkins said, “The massive gas leak in Porter Ranch, California shows the inherent dangers of underground gas storage. The shores of Seneca Lake — New York’s own Napa Valley — are the wrong place for a massive gas storage hub. The salt caverns are too geologically unstable. One accident would turn visitors away and ruin the economy.”
Civil disobedience campaign has resulted in almost 500 arrests by late January
Also joining the protest were Schuyler County resident and U.S. Army veteran Nathan Lewis, who served in Iraq, and Colleen Boland, a retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant who served in the White House during the George W. Bush Administration. Boland served an eight-day jail sentence in November 2014 for a previous act of civil disobedience at the Crestwood entrance.
At 8:45 a.m. Jan. 26, the 13 ceremoniously unfurled banners that read, “Veterans Against Crestwood / Defending the Climate and Seneca Lake,” and formed a human chain across the north entrance of Crestwood Midstream, blocking chemical tanker trucks from leaving and entering the facility.
Leaks from Porter Ranch gas storage well have displaced thousands
The group was arrested shortly after 9 a.m. by Schuyler County deputies, transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff’s department, charged with disorderly conduct, and released.
As of that day, the total number of arrests in the sixteen-month-old civil disobedience campaign stood at 480.
While blockading, the veterans made public statements about the duty they feel to protect water and the climate.
“I continue to be mindful of my past oath to protect against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” said Colleen Boland, who traveled to more than 20 countries while on active duty.
In her remarks at the gate, Boland addressed recent accusations that Seneca Lake protesters are “outsiders”:
“When the science on climate change is ignored, when our political leaders do the bidding of the gas industry rather than protect us, people rise up. Veterans rise up. And when we do, we should never — in any instance — be called outsiders here in our own country, in our own state, in the regions where we grew up. Veterans should never be dismissed when we speak out on issues that threaten our well-being and the security of our loved ones.”
Braving January cold, demonstrators urge shift away from fossil fuels
Jenifer Paquette said, “From 1970 to 1973, I served in the U.S. Navy as a personnelman 3rd class petty officer. Except for that military time, I have lived all of my 63 years in Corning, New York and feel a right and a duty to protect the air, land, and water that is my birthright. The Crestwood gas storage expansion is a threat to those basic rights for me, my son, and my granddaughter.”
Nathan Lewis, 33, of Hector, said, “I served two and a half years in the U.S. Army as a field artilleryman. What I saw in Iraq was that the war on terror is a catastrophe. What I see here at home, in Schuyler County, is that the fossil fuel industry is pushing our ecosystem to the point of collapse.”
The We Are Seneca Lake movement opposes Crestwood’s plans for methane and liquefied petroleum gas storage in lakeside salt caverns and has been ongoing since October 2014.
Crestwood’s methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October 2014 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.
The 13 arrested ranged in age from 33 to 76 and came from Chemung, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Steuben and Tioga counties.
The previous week, on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, seven blockaders declared solidarity with the victims of the Porter Ranch gas leak in California and recalled Dr. King’s words about the importance of direct action to fight against injustice.
In his famous 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
In that spirit, and as part of the ongoing civil disobedience campaign, seven protesters from six different New York counties declared their support for the residents of Porter Ranch, California, where a massive leak from an underground gas storage facility has sickened and displaced thousands of families and shows no sign of abating.
The seven formed a human chain across the north entrance of Crestwood Midstream the morning of Jan. 18. While blocking traffic entering and leaving the facility, the group read a statement of solidarity with the people of Porter Ranch before their arrest by Schuyler County deputies.
The MLK Day blockaders held banners that said, “Seneca Lake to Porter Ranch: Shut It All Down” and “Gas Storage Courts Disaster.” Porter Ranch activists use #shutitALLdown as their signature hashtag on Twitter.
All those arrested were transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff’s department, charged with disorderly conduct, and released.
Protestors cited Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" as a call to action against injustice, and an explanation for their willigness to be arrested while calling attention to threats to their region's drinking water and the climate.
The uncontrolled gas leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility — the single largest in the U.S. — was discovered on Oct. 23, 2015. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Jan. 6, 2016. Thus far, more than 2,500 families have fled their homes and more than 1,000 children have been relocated to other schools. Health officials now acknowledge they initially underestimated the scope of the gas leak and the possible attendant health risks. Self-reported health complaints include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath, and headaches.
As We Are Seneca Lake protesters noted in their statement of support, the massive gas leak at Porter Ranch is a problem with no end in sight and no obvious solution: “People of Porter Ranch, we know your lives were upended because no one replaced a safety valve at the bottom of the well. We don’t believe we have bottom safety valves here, either . . . . What affects you directly today could affect us directly tomorrow.”
Elizabeth Peet, 48, of the town of Hector in Schuyler County, said, “Today as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded that my civic responsibility includes civil disobedience while my elected officials continue to fail to protect our lake and surrounding communities from dangerous gas storage expansion.”
Michael Black, 63, of Lakemont in Yates County, said, “I was born in Schuyler County and have lived on the shores of Seneca Lake for nearly a half century. I now live seven miles from Crestwood. What happens here happens to me as well. If the gas storage facility here were to leak—as is happening in southern California—I could be in danger. If it explodes I would likely be killed.”
The seven arrested Jan. 18 ranged in age from 31 to 63 and come from Ontario, Seneca, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins and Yates counties.
The first action of 2016 came on Jan. 11, when six We Are Seneca Lake protesters from five different New York counties toasted the New Year with apple cider, resolved to continue their campaign, and called for urgent action to protect the climate. As with the other protests, they formed a human chain to block the Crestwood entrance before their arrest by Schuyler County deputies.
The blockaders held banners that said, “Crestwood = Climate Crisis” and “2016: Out with the Old. In with ReNEWables.” All were released after being charged with disorderly conduct.
Mother, grandmother, and art teacher Lyndsay Clark, 54, of Springwater led fellow blockaders in a toast:
“We Are Seneca Lake resolves to protect and defend this water below us and this climate above us from reckless gas storage every day this year. If there is no other way, we will peacefully stand in the way. 2016 is the year of climate action, and we hereby resolve to act.”
Environmental researcher and blockader John Dennis, 65, of Lansing, noted, “Some of these natural gas storage caverns were drilled in the 1950s. They could fail and release methane into the atmosphere just as has the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage cavern that is currently releasing methane into the atmosphere near Los Angeles.”
The six arrested on Jan. 11 ranged in age from 54 to 72 and live in Delaware, Livingston, Seneca, Tompkins and Yates counties.
This report is adapted from statements that originally appeared at WEARESENECALAKE.COM. All photos are by We Are Seneca Lake.