New York State: A Repository for Pennsylvania’s Fracked Gas

From the March/April 2016

by Charley Bowman

On March 7, 56 Seneca Lake Defenders were arrested at the gates of Crestwood,
including founder Bill McKibben. Photo:

Hydrofracking in Pennsylvania began in earnest in 2005. Eleven years later, the state of “virtue, liberty and independence” is bursting at the seams with methane (aka natural gas) partly because PA lacks the pipeline infrastructure to transport it out of state to coastal regions (think export). Nationwide there are plans for 34,112 miles of new pipeline, some of it already in place.

The rapid fracking of PA also created a shortage of storage facilities for excess methane and liquid petroleum gas (LPG); hence, the interest in the empty and ever-increasing-in-size salt caverns north of Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake, the source of drinking water for over 100,000 people. Methane is now stored there, and expansion plans are afoot.

Crestwood Equity Partners, which owns the storage field on Seneca Lake, wants to store 88.2 million gallons of liquid petroleum gas from hydrofracked fields in southwestern PA, in addition to increasing the volume of stored methane from 1.5 billion cubic feet to 2 billion cubic feet. All this gas and liquid will be stored 2,000 feet underneath their 600 acre site on the western shore of Seneca Lake. The methane and LPG will be held in geologically unstable salt caverns previously created by solution mining of salt.

There have been 11 major accidents in salt-mine methane gas storage fields since 1972 and seven of these accidents resulted in fire while five also resulted in explosions.

Catastrophic accidents even occur in gas storage fields inside stable rock formations. On October 23, 2015, a pipe failed in the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Field and methane started flowing to the surface, enveloping the wealthy neighboring community of Porter Ranch outside of Los Angeles. The smell forced four thousand families living in a three mile radius to seek temporary residence until SoCalGas gained control of the leak on February 18, 2016. The Aliso Canyon leak is the second largest in US history, exceeded only by the 2004 Moss Bluff Texas gas release with fire and explosions following a massive roof collapse in—you guessed it—a salt mine. The Aliso methane release is the equivalent of placing an extra 464,000 cars on the road.

An Aliso/Moss Bluff-style accident could also happen at Crestwood on Seneca Lake. All deep-well pipes will fail at some point in their lifetime, says Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea. The few thousand residents living within a three-mile radius of the Crestwood gas storage site would need temporary housing. Unlike Los Angeles, several thousand vacant housing units are unlikely to be available in the general vicinity of Watkins Glen. Tents anyone?

Clearly, there are pipes in Crestwood…what is their condition? What rules does NY State have in place to insure the integrity of those pipes? Are safety shut-off valves installed at the bottom of the pipes, which would prevent an Aliso-style accident? If such valves are present, would a geologic accident damage them?

These questions have neither been asked nor addressed by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which has yet to finally rule on the expansion of Crestwood’s LPG storage capability on Seneca Lake (the methane expansion has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, without NY State input). At a minimum, the DEC should wait until a formal study of the Aliso Canyon accident is completed before rendering final consideration of Crestwood’s proposal.

The slow pace of the DEC’s regulatory process surrounding Crestwood has not affected expansion of pipelines in PA. The Constitution Pipeline has surmounted all the regulatory micro-speed bumps at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and in PA, but not in New York State. Nevertheless, on January 29, FERC ordered trees removed in the PA portion of the Constitution Pipeline. Most of the maple trees on the Holleran-Zeffer property are now gone, a very sad ending to Hollerans’ multi-year legal battle.

The tree removal happened in the absence of a payment agreement between the pipeline company and the Holleran family for the removal of 90 percent of their maple trees.

The Holleran’s 65 year-old maple syrup business was sacrificed on the altar of dirty fracked gas for the so-called “Constitution” pipeline, without payment, via eminent domain proceedings in the land of “virtue, liberty and independence.”

Back at Seneca Lake, the members of We Are Seneca Lake sponsor nonviolent direct action at the gates of Crestwood Energy Partners. Since October 2014 there have been more than 500 arrests of Seneca Lake Defenders. The most recent action occurred on March 7.

The defense of Seneca Lake continues. For more information and to join the fight, visit

Charley chairs the Environmental Justice Task Force of the Western NY Peace Center.