Protest at Crestwood site 10/24/14

Protest at Crestwood site 10/24/14

Sustainable Tompkins stands with the residents of the Finger Lakes Region opposing construction of Crestwood’s methane gas storage in the abandoned salt caverns under Seneca Lake –the heart of a regional economy based on tourism, wine, and farming.  But it seems the citizens of our region are “children of a lesser god.”  At least, employees at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seem to think so, as they’ve granted a permit to Crestwood for this risky project despite allegations of withholding critical geologic data.

Apparently, a majority of the Schuyler County legislature and Reading town board accept that their constituents don’t have rights to clean air and clean water as they have acquiesced to the interests of out-of-state corporations.  The rail and truck traffic forecast for the depot guarantees significant air pollution in the valley, and the risk of leaks and spills into groundwater or the lake is also very high.  In contrast, four county legislatures and nine municipal boards in the surrounding area have voted against the gas depot because it threatens the quality of life, health, and economic well being of their constituents.

A thorough risk analysis led by Dr. Rob MacKenzie (retired president of Cayuga Medical Center) was done at the request of a Schuyler County legislator.  The risk of a major accident or failure during transport or storage at the facility is estimated at nearly 40% over the next 25 years.  That’s an exceptionally high risk to force upon the residents of any region.  It’s also highly probable that the pressurized gas inside the salt domes will force more dissolved salts through fractures and into the lake bottom and cause rapid increases in the lake’s salinity.  Seneca Lake has already become the saltiest of the Finger Lakes over the past 60 years of salt mining and gas storage, and is the drinking water source for over 100,000 people.

Voters and taxpayers are mobilizing across New York State and declaring that they hold rights that cannot be surrendered to the profit margins of the fossil fuel industry and the political interests of President Obama and Governor Cuomo.  The Seneca gas depot is just part of the many-headed hydra of methane gas infrastructure expansion the Cuomo administration has welcomed into upstate New York. However, methane leakage rates are documented to be so high that its climate impact is as bad as coal. Given the pace of growing climate disruption, we can’t afford to waste money on risky gas infrastructure that will have to be abandoned before the bill for climate damage escalates further. Therefore, methane can no longer be considered a “bridge fuel” during the transition to greater efficiency and renewable-based power generation.

Polls show that many people are ready to make that transition now, and we are seeking political leaders who will help, not hinder, our progress toward true energy democracy.  Until we find those leaders, the people are determined to protect their homes and beloved landscapes from risky ventures that enrich wealthy corporations.  We refuse to be anybody’s sacrifice zone for we are not children of a lesser god.  [This op-ed was published in the Ithaca Journal and Watkins Express/Observer.]