Seneca Lake Uprising Continues

By Sandra Steingraber, EcoWatch

[Editor’s note: Since the We Are Seneca Lake campaign began on Oct. 23, 2104, there have been 216 arrests, with six of those arrests yesterday. The campaign is working to protect Seneca Lake and the surrounding Finger Lakes region from the gas storage expansion project by Texas-based energy company, Crestwood Midstream. Crestwood’s intention is to repurpose the crumbling salt mines underneath Seneca Lake’s hillside into massive gas tanks for highly-pressurized products from fracking: methane, propane and butane.]

I told the guy at the wilderness outfitter store that I needed footwear appropriate for standing motionless in frigid temperatures with occasional bouts of below-zero wind chill. For possibly long periods of time.

He asked if I was going ice fishing.

There are no guidebooks for how to carry out a sustained civil disobedience campaign during winter—let alone one that involves human blockades that intercept trucks attempting to enter a compressor station site on a steeply sloping lakeshore with 18 inches of snowpack.

Ice fishing with a chance of handcuffs. It’s as good a metaphor as any.

With that in mind, I bought a pair of waterproof boots that looked like something that you might bench-press at a gym and were guaranteed to 40 below.

After two hours of standing on ice at 10 above, my feet were—surprise!—distressingly cold. I would have returned the boots except that a sustained civil disobedience campaign, with all participants vetted and trained, is also like planning and executing a wedding every week. No time for more shopping. The boots would have to do.

At its core, the ongoing We Are Seneca Lake protest, now in its fourth month, is unsurprising.

A Houston-based energy company called Crestwood bought 500 acres of real estate in the prettiest place you’ve ever seen—on the shores of Seneca Lake, smack in the middle of New York’s wine country—and began to lay plans to turn it into the gas storage and transportation hub for the entire Northeast. It proposes to do so by repurposing crumbly, unlined, lakeside salt caverns, left over from a century of salt mining, into holding tanks for fracked gases: methane, butane and propane.

Brine pits. Flare stacks. Pipelines. Compressor stations. Tanker trains hauling explosive liquids across rickety rail trestles that traverse waterfall-filled—and tourist-filled—gorges.

You’d be mad, too, if you lived here.

The state of New York, which is in charge of propane and butane transportation and storage, responded to the resulting hue and cry by putting its part of the project on hold, pending an Issues Conference convened by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. A possible prelude to a full judiciary hearing, the Issues Conference is scheduled for today, Thursday, Feb. 12, in the village of Horseheads, and for this purpose, the local Holiday Inn Express is to be transformed into a courtroom.

In contrast, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is in charge of methane transportation and storage, swept aside public concerns, scientific objections and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines and possible salinization of the lake caused by pressurizing the salt caverns with hydrocarbon gases. With no recourse for appeal, FERC blithely approved natural gas storage in the caverns.

Seneca Lake provides drinking water for 100,000 people.

On the morning of Jan. 28, the leading edge of what may have been the world’s first farm-to-table civil disobedience action arrived at the gates.

crestwood6501
The farm and food blockade was the brainchild of Emma Frisch, a local chef and hotelier who is a rising Food Network star, and she took a convivial approach to protesting. Photo credit: We Are Seneca Lake

By the time I got there, ten minutes later, two oak banquet tables—each laden with steaming dishes of food—were standing, like mirage, in the snow-drifted strip of land before the compressor station fence.

I could not have been more surprised.

There were meatballs, sauerkraut, noodles, artisanal bread, popcorn, salads, cheeses, honeycombs, pate, maple syrup-drenched pastries, bowls of apples and cakes of various flavors—all prepared from local, seasonal ingredients. There were three kinds of hot tea, jars of grape juice and cider, artful centerpieces and a portable compost station.

And people kept arriving: farmers, chefs, bakers, caterers, wine makers, maple syrup makers, bartenders, restaurant owners, agri-tourism committee chairs, authors of cookbooks.

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