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A scene from Tuesday morning's action. (Photo: @WeAreSenecaLake/Twitter)

Arrests Mount as 'We Are Seneca Lake' Campaign Enters Fourth Week

Activists wonder: 'When will they come for the lawbreakers inside the gates?'

Deirdre Fulton

Close to 50 climate activists have been arrested over several weeks as part of an ongoing civil disobedience campaign in opposition to a gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake in central New York.

Eight protesters were arrested on Tuesday morning for blockading the gates to Texas-based Crestwood Midstream’s compressor station site; an additional 10 had been arrested Monday. There have been 43 arrests total since the 'We Are Seneca Lake' grassroots action began in late October. 

Crestwood seeks to store methane and liquified natural gas in old underground salt caverns. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), gave the Crestwood Midstream expansion plans the go-ahead last month.

Local activists are concerned about the facility's potential impact on agriculture, drinking water, tourism, and public health and see approval of Crestwood's proposal as laying the groundwork for expansion of fracking infrastructure throughout the region. The caverns are located a few hundred miles from the booming natural gas fields of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and close to two gas pipeline routes.

Joining the protesters on Monday were participants in the Great March for Climate Action, a 3,000-mile walk from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. that took place between March and November. After spending a week in Washington D.C. blockading the entrances of FERC’s headquarters every day, some of the Marchers came to the Finger Lakes to help stop Crestwood’s FERC-approved expansion project. 

Among them was Ithaca College student Faith Meckley, who was born and raised in nearby Geneva, New York. She was arrested as part of the action on Monday.

"I am ecstatic to stand beside my fellow Climate Marchers as I put myself on the line to protect my home today," Meckley said. "They come from all over the country and they are standing with me because they are my family and they want to protect me and my home. Their presence here goes to show that this is more than just a Finger Lakes or a New York issue. This is a national and even a global one. In a world where fresh, clean water is becoming ever more rare, we are sitting on a priceless treasure here that we may eventually have to share. We need to make sure that Seneca Lake and all the lakes are clean and healthy for generations to come."

According to reporting by Al-Jazeera America:

Underground oil and gas storage accidents are rare but can be catastrophic. Data on salt cavern storage is sparse, but one report commissioned by the British government in 2008 found that salt cavern facilities worldwide have collapsed or been breached 27 times since they began being used to store oil and gas in the 1940s. According to nonprofit investigative news outlet DC Bureau, salt caverns represent 7 percent of the U.S.’s approximately 400 underground gas storage sites. All eight deadly cavern disasters have occurred in the U.S., according to the British report. In those disasters, the contents of the caverns caught fire, causing explosions.

Nonlethal accidents have nonetheless created major headaches and environmental disasters. Perhaps the most infamous is the Bayou Corne sinkhole in rural Louisiana. There, a salt cavern collapsed in 2012, creating a 750-foot-deep hole that spans 30 acres and is filled with a toxic brew of oil, chemicals and water. It is still growing. Louisiana has urged the 350 residents of the area to move, and many are involved in a class-action suit against Texas Brine, the company that owned the caverns.

A rally is planned for Wednesday afternoon outside of the Town of Reading court, prior to the arraignment for 16 of the arrested protesters—including a retired Master Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force, a 76-year-old mother and grandmother, and author and biologist Dr. Sandra Steingraber, who spent 10 days in jail last year for blocking the entrance to the facility. According to We Are Seneca Lake, a number of protesters plan to not pay their fines and expect to be incarcerated.

One demonstrator, 75-year-old Dwain Wilder, has already spent 15 days in jail for refusing to pay his fine.

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