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Seneca Lake activists arrested for blocking fracked gas storage facility

Protesters gathered outside Crestwood's gates on Wednesday. (Facebook / We Are Seneca Lake)

Protesters gathered outside Crestwood’s gates on Wednesday. (Facebook / We Are Seneca Lake)

Over 370 arrests have been made since October 2014 in an activist group’s campaign against a fracked gas storage facility near Seneca Lake in New York’s Schuyler county with 13 of those arrests happening on August 26 during a blockade of the facility by protesters.

Shortly after sunrise on Wednesday, the protesters, led by students from multiple universities, blocked two tanker trucks at the north entrance of energy company Crestwood Midstream’s gas storage facility on Route 14.

“Today young people and their supporters took a stand for our collective future here in the Finger Lakes,” participant Garbiel Shapiro told Earth First! Newswire. “Crestwood wants to turn our region into a storage hub for fracked gas serving the entire Northeast U.S. Their plans put too much at risk. We want to come back and possibly raise children here someday. We don’t want methane, [liquid petroleum gas], brine, heavy machinery and the fracking industry to have anything to do with that.”

The protesters, who ranged from age 18 to 78, held a banner stating “We Must Safeguard the Planet for Those Who Follow” and blocked trucks from entering the facility until police came and arrested them at around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The action brings the total number arrests made in this civil disobedience campaign to 372 since October 2014.

Students from five colleges helped hold the banner blocking Crestwood's gates. (Facebook / We Are Seneca Lake)

Students from five colleges helped hold the banner blocking Crestwood’s gates. (Facebook / We Are Seneca Lake)

The protests, organized by activist group We Are Seneca Lake, have targeted Houston-based Crestwood Midstream. In September 2014, despite warnings of the geological risks from scientists and protests from locals, the company was granted permission by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to turn abandoned lakeside salt caverns on the west shoreline of Seneca Lake into storage centers for methane gas and liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, obtained through fracking in Pennsylvania. The large concentration of stored gas, only two miles north of the small town of Watkins Glen, has many locals and environmentalists concerned about the harmful effects that may come as a result. This includes gas leaks, contaminated water, explosions, and even negative impacts on the local wine and tourism industries.

“The volume of gas to be stored in this area will be unprecedented,” We Are Seneca Lake said in a statement. “This proposed LPG storage facility alone will be the largest in the Northeast and one of the largest in the United States … No environmental assessment has considered the cumulative hazards of LPG and methane stored in massive amounts in close proximity. If Crestwood’s plans are realized, LPG and methane will be stored in caverns less than a quarter mile apart from each other.”

Ever since the September 2014 decision by FERC, activists have been regularly engaging in acts of civil disobedience to protest the construction and expansion of these storage centers, as well as bring attention to the widespread disapproval of Crestwood’s actions in the region. Earlier this month, on August 18, 19 protesters were also arrested for blocking Route 14 and preventing two tanker trucks from entering the facility. On August 13, eight protesters were arrested while blockading the same road, and before that, on August 4, 13 were arrested while forming a blockade and reading Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change.

A tanker truck was blocked from entering the gas storage facility. (Facebook / We Are Seneca Falls)

A tanker truck was blocked from entering the gas storage facility. (Facebook / We Are Seneca Falls)

The last two months have also seen blockades of the same entrance followed by arrests on June 30, July 20 and July 29 with protesters demanding that construction and expansion of the gas storage facilities be ended. Crestwood, which has also received much support from local Republican politicians, insists that ending the use of the natural gas storage facilities is impractical and that they will bring jobs and investment to the region.

“Certainly if we were starting from scratch and saying, ‘Where would you build a liquefied petroleum gas storage facility?’ you probably wouldn’t put it right there over Seneca Lake, near the wine country,” Bill Gautreaux, president of Crestwood’s liquids and crude business unit, told AlterNet. “But the reality of it is that it already exists.”

The activists say that Crestwood either doesn’t realize or doesn’t care about the possible negative consequences of storing so much natural gas in Schuyler county’s salt caverns. In order to bring attention to the situation and disrupt Crestwood’s day-to-day activities, they’re more than willing to put their bodies on the line.

“The dangers of gas storage in the leaky, old salt caverns in Watkins Glen are shrugged off by Crestwood,” 77-year-old Janie Meaney, who was arrested during the August 26 blockade, said in a statement. “Children who live in Schuyler County are the basis for my decision to risk arrest to protest the debacle of endangering children and the ruin of Seneca Lake that provides drinking water for their families and neighbors.”