By Eli Watkins
December 11, 2014
Caption : Crestwood Midstream Partners LP, a Texas-based company in the energy industry, has sought to convert a few large underground salt caverns into storage for both natural gas and liquefied propane and butane. The proposals have sparked controversy and led to the creation of a protest group called We Are Seneca Lake.     

New York State’s Seneca Lake is a large freshwater lake that supplies the surrounding area with water and a climate favorable enough to grow wine grapes, even at that high of a latitude. But this place, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York and home to a blossoming wine region, has seen a controversial new addition.

Crestwood Midstream Partners LP, a Texas-based company in the energy industry, has sought to convert a few large underground salt caverns into storage for both natural gas and liquefied propane and butane. The federal government has already approved the natural gas storage, and the state of New York has yet to decide on the liquid storage. The proposals have sparked controversy and led to the creation of a protest group called We Are Seneca Lake.

Generation Progress spoke with someone who has taken a lead in the burgeoning protest movement, Sandra Steingraber, a PhD biologist, who explained, “The empty salt caverns are becoming barrels.”

The series of protests have taken place over the past few months. Many local residents have expressed concern about what the already approved methane storage will do to the lake, their health, and ultimately, the climate.

“The caverns aid and abet fossil fuel buildup,” said Steingraber.

Besides the obvious climate implications, many of the protesters are more concerned about the safety of the cavern storage.

A similar salt cavern arrangement collapsed into a sinkhole in Bayou Corne, Louisiana in 2012 and forced the entire town to evacuate, according to Mother Jones.

Since the protests in New York began, about 92 people have been arrested, and four are reportedly still in jail. Many of the protesters have accepted their trespassing charges and received maximum sentences of fifteen days in jail. Some however, including one 90-year-old woman, have opted to plead not guilty and force a bench trial. Steingraber said that at least one protester will show up for court dates in an attempt “to put Crestwood on trial.”

The protests are reportedly somewhat calm and organized, albeit relentless. We Are Seneca Lake said it requires non-violence training before its unannounced blockades and that protesters allow the police to arrest them peacefully.

Steingraber said she suspects the police may even be sympathetic, claiming one officer said, “We drink the water too.”

Whether the protests are successful or not at getting the federal government to take another look at the matter remains unknown. So far however, Crestwood has not brought gas into the caverns.

Steingraber said We Are Seneca Lake is determined to continue.

“We hope to shine such a spotlight on this that we can get somebody, maybe our senators [Kirsten] Gillibrand and [Chuck] Schumer, to get an injunction,” Steingraber said.

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