"We are ALL Seneca Lake" was the message delivered this morning by prominent environmental leaders Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, David Braun, co-founder of Americans Against Fracking, and Rachel Marco-Havens, youth engagement director of Earth Guardians during a protest at Stagecoach (formerly Crestwood) gas storage complex along Route 14 in the Town of Reading.
The three joined 50 others at a civil disobedience action against gas storage in Seneca Lake salt caverns that highlighted our interconnectedness in the struggle for a fast and necessary transition to clean energy, and the folly and destructiveness of new fossil fuel infrastructure projects.
Organized by the direct action group, We Are Seneca Lake, the protesters formed a human blockade on the driveway of the gas storage facility shortly before 7 a.m.
During the blockade, the protesters stopped all traffic entering and leaving the facility. Shortly before 8 a.m., they were arrested by Schuyler County sheriff's deputies, charged with disorderly conduct and transported to the sheriff's department. Watkins Glen police and NYS troopers assisted in the arrests.
In reference to Con Ed's recent investment in Seneca Lake gas storage and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's extension of an almost-lapsed permit, protesters held banners that said, "We Will Not be Con-ed" and "We Will Not be FERC'ed!"
In an address to fellow protesters, Gillingham, 56, of Ulster, New York, said, "While we stand here in solidarity with the people of Seneca Lake, we are also standing up against the devastation in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and the bomb trains bringing that fracked oil to Albany. We are standing up against the oil and gas money that pollutes our politics. We are standing up against pipelines rubber-stamped by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission."
Describing the Aliso Canyon gas storage leak near Porter Ranch, California, that prompted thousands of evacuations, Braun, 45, of Oakland, said, "I am risking arrest with you today because of disasters with gas storage that I have seen up close in my home state. Don't let it happen here. Don't turn wine country into fracked gas country. Don't build Aliso Canyon in New York's Napa Valley."
Gas storage is the only industry with the power to take down the entire local economy in the case of an accident, Braun noted. "Winemakers don't poison the air if they have a bad year. Local farmers won't force thousands to be evacuated from their homes if their crops don't produce properly. No other industry does this," he said.
Salt cavern storage accounts for only seven percent of total underground storage of natural gas in the U.S. but, since 1972, is responsible for 100 percent of the catastrophic accidents that has resulted in loss of life.
Crestwood's methane gas storage expansion project was originally approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October 2014 in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines and possible salinization of Seneca Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people.
Crestwood also seeks to store two other products of fracking in Seneca Lake salt caverns—propane and butane (so-called Liquefied Petroleum Gases, LPG)—for which it is awaiting a decision by Gov. Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation.
"As a scientist, I know that there is no bigger threat to our planet than climate change," Biochemist Martha Ferger, PhD, 92, of Dryden, New York, said. "Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Storing methane in the salt caverns here at Seneca Lake will make the problem of climate change worse, not better."
The 53 protesters arrested at Seneca Lake today came from 18 New York State counties plus California and New Jersey. Eight were from Schuyler County, New York.
"We must move to renewable sources of energy now," Marco-Havens, 46, of Woodstock, New York, said. "This summer, as fossil fuel build-out escalates, we will continue to escalate our efforts—for the protection of our children and those to come."