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Senators urge consideration of gas concerns


New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand

READING (9/7/2016)--U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) submitted another letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with concerns about Crestwood's underground natural gas storage in the town of Reading. The letter, dated Aug. 19, urges FERC to give full consideration to the safety and environmental concerns brought up by several groups and citizens in the area surrounding Seneca Lake. This comes following a decision by FERC in May to grant the project a two-year extension on construction that was initially approved in 2014.

"We would like to restate the concerns raised by our constituents since the Commission's issuance of the construction certificate in 2014," according to the letter. "These include the adverse impacts this project could have on public health, safety, the environment and quality of life currently enjoyed by many in this area. In addition, the federal government is considering new regulations to address the safety of natural gas storage that, if applied to this facility, could have substantial impact on a variety of constituent concerns and the way this facility would operate."

The letter also lists several groups that filed an appeal to FERC's decision in June, stating the commission did not consider critical safety concerns related to the project. The appeal also provided new information on safety that was not available when the certificate issued, arguing the extension of time was not justified and the commission should not permit Arlington to proceed until these issues are addressed.

"We are also aware that many of our constituent groups including Gas Free Seneca, Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition, Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, and many surrounding towns and counties have come together to file an appeal to FERC halting this project until the serious environmental and safety issues they have raised are properly addressed," according to the letter. "We ask that you give this appeal appropriate and thorough consideration."

FERC had originally granted the construction permit authorizing construction in 2014, but the project has been delayed while waiting on the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to come to a decision on the the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) portion of the project. This also comes after Crestwood announced they would be scaling back the LPG project while eliminating train and truck distribution at the site.

"We are extremely grateful to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for listening to their constituents and lending their support," said Joseph Campbell, president of Gas Free Seneca. "We know that FERC has come under great scrutiny for rubber-stamping all gas related projects, so we hope that hearing from our senators will encourage FERC to carefully consider our appeal."

The senators' letter also comes shortly after Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting, Inc., an environmental database firm in Ithaca, released U.S. Salt spill information obtained from the DEC. Hang claims many spills were never cleaned up to state standards even though they caused petroleum contamination and brine discharges that affected Seneca Lake. The information Hang provided included 17 different spill events spanning from 1974 to 2016 of varying amounts of brine or oil, the largest of which being the spilling of 470,000 gallons of brine in 1980. Hang also submitted a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office urging him to deny all gas storage petitions at the site.

"This information documents that New York authorities are unable to prevent or clean up toxic spills," Hang said.

Gas Free Seneca Co-Founder Yvonne Taylor said there have been seven spills listed in Hang's information in the eight years Crestwood owned the property. While two of these spills appear to be a duplicate report (dated March 16, 2016) for the same incident, the spills during this timeframe amount to 5.25 gallons of oil and 7,654 gallons of brine since Crestwood took over, according to Hang's information.

"That's not really good odds," Taylor said. "[...] It doesn't bode well for increasing gas storage over there. The human error and equipment failure they are already experiencing, it gave us great pause."

Meanwhile, Crestwood representatives highlighted the investments that have been made in the facility to help improve the plant's operation.

"We cannot speak to incidents that occurred before we bought U.S. Salt in 2008," Crestwood Vice President Brad Bacon stated. "We knew that significant catch-up investment would be required, and we have spent tens of millions to upgrade and modernize the plant operations. Although our goal is an incident-free workplace, the incidents that have occurred since we finished replacing the brine pipeline system in 2013 have been minor. Despite what this group would like you to believe, there is nothing nefarious or catastrophic here -- the state's experts had this data before strongly endorsing our propane storage project."