Seneca Lake Protesters Battle Methane Storage

Civil Disobedience Campaign Enters Second Year

Nineteen people from New York, New Jersey and as far away as North Carolina added their bodies and voices to the blockade at Crestwood’s proposed methane gas storage facility on the shores of Seneca Lake on the morning of December 9, 2015. They stood in an orderly line with banners reading “Protecting Our Only Home” and “There Is No Plan(et) B” across the entrance to Crestwood’s facility on Route 14 in Watkins Glen. It was the third blockade to happen that week, timed to coincide with the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. Over 450 people have been arrested in similar actions over the past year.

[Editor’s note: Additional protests have taken place since then, including an observance of the anniversary of New York’s statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing on December 17 — see Dryden — and a “Santa Goes Solar” demonstration on December 21.]

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Protesters blocking entrance to Crestwood Natural Gas storage site.

“Crestwood’s plans endanger the drinking water for 100,000 people, and the fracking industry’s extraction, transportation and storage of fracked gases are major contributors to our planetary climate chaos,” said John Wagner, 62, of Pittsboro, N.C. “I am also here today as a small act of support and solidarity with Vanda Shiva, indigenous groups, Sandra Steingraber and others that are in Paris to try to keep the Climate Summit goals from being derailed by powerful corporations.”

Crestwood’s methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in October 2014 in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines and possible salinization of Seneca Lake.

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Under arrest, protesters walk to police van. Over 450 have been arrested so far.

The facility plans to store natural gas and then sell it to urban areas such as New York or Boston during times of increased demand and profit. It is one of many projects, including pipelines, which aim to develop “new markets” for the current glut of natural gas from the fracking boom, committing people to using natural gas in the future. Natural gas is primarily methane, a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe.

Whether due to low natural gas prices or the ongoing direct action campaign, construction of Crestwood’s natural gas storage expansion has not yet begun.

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Arrests at Dec. 21, 2015 Protest, which had ‘santa goes solar’ theme

“When my grandchildren ask me if I knew about climate change long ago in the early 2010s, I will say yes,” said Richard Battaglia, 53, of Richford, N.Y. “I am standing here so when they ask me what I did about it, I will not have to hide in shame.”

“We need to stop investing in fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Charley Bowman, 69, of Getzville, N.Y.

“The climate negotiations in Paris are important,” said Karin Suskin, 58, of Ithaca, “but words on paper take time to implement. We are quite literally ‘thinking globally, acting locally’ and stopping the fossil fuel industry where we can — in our own back yard.”

Schuyler County deputies arrested the 19 people at 9:40 a.m. as they blocked a pickup driven by Crestwood’s Director of Operations, Barry Moon, from leaving the facility. They sang “We are a peaceful gentle people / and we are standing for our home,” referring to both Seneca Lake and the world.

The 19 protesters were transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff’s department, charged with disorderly conduct and released. The total number of arrests in the civil disobedience campaign over the past year now stands at 454, as of the December 21 action.

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Catholic protesters cited Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment before being arrested on trespassing charges.

Background On the Protests

Protesters have been blocking the Crestwood gas storage facility gates since October 23, 2014, including a rally with more than 200 people on October 24. On October 29, Crestwood called the police and the first 10 protesters were arrested. 

The unified We Are Seneca Lake protests started on October 23 because October 24 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 decision from a Department of Environmental Conservation administrative law judge on whether the matter needs a full adjudicatory review.

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As they have for a long time, the protesters are continuing to call on President Obama, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Congressman Tom Reed to intervene on behalf of the community and halt the dangerous project. In spite of overwhelming opposition and grave geological and public health concerns, Crestwood was given FERC approval in October 2014 to move forward with plans to store highly pressurized, explosive gas in abandoned salt caverns on the west side of Seneca Lake. However, despite ongoing activity on site, Crestwood reports to FERC that construction of the methane storage expansion has not yet begun.

 


This is an excerpt of a report that originally appeared at Wearesenecalake.com

All photos by We Are Seneca Lake.


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