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13 Arrested at Crestwood Blockade While Reading Pope Francis' Encyclical on Climate Change

Energy

Early this morning, in a peaceful civil disobedience action against gas storage in Seneca Lake salt caverns, which took place the day after President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan to move the nation away from fossil fuels, 13 people from six New York counties were arrested while reading verses from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter on climate change.

Just after dawn, the 13 formed a human blockade at the north and south entrances of Crestwood Midstream’s gas storage facility on Route 14, preventing all traffic from entering or leaving and began their reading. Joining the pontifical read-aloud was the Rev. John D. Elder, former pastor of the historic First Church in Oberlin, Ohio and present part-time resident of Schuyler County. Rev. Elder was not arrested.

Large trucks attempting to leave the facility were blocked at both the north and south gates of the Crestwood property shortly after 7 a.m. Photo credit: We Are Seneca Lake

The words on the banners carried by today’s protesters—“Love the Common Good,” “And Care for This World”—were lines from the prayer that closes the encyclical.

Large trucks attempting to leave the facility were blocked at both the north and south gates of the Crestwood property shortly after 7 a.m. Schuyler County deputies arrested the blockaders at about 7:30 a.m. The 13 were taken into custody, charged with both trespassing and disorderly conduct and released. None of the 13 blockaders this morning had been previously arrested as part of the We Are Seneca Lake movement, which opposes Crestwood’s plans for methane and LPG storage in lakeside salt caverns.

Two other individuals on the media team were inadvertently arrested and charged with trespassing (one was the videographer and the other one was me).

Dan Taylor, 64, of Oxford in Chenango County said, "Yesterday, President Obama released the Clean Power Plan and put the nation on the path to renewable energy. Today, we are standing at the gates of dirty energy to say that Crestwood’s plan for the Finger Lakes is not a clean power plan. I am here to help impede the build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure."

This morning’s recitation continued the read-aloud from the Pontifical document, Laudato Si! On Care for Our Common Home, that began during a blockade on June 30 and that continued during blockades on July 7 and July 20. All together, 44 people have been arrested as part of encyclical-themed blockades at Crestwood.

Joining the pontifical read-aloud was the Rev. John D. Elder, former pastor of the historic First Church in Oberlin, Ohio, and present part-time resident of Schuyler County. Photo credit: We Are Seneca Lake

One of today's arrestees, Faith Muirhead, 45, of Beaver Dams in Steuben County, grew up in the town of Reading near the salt caverns. She said, “We are all of us stewards of the earth. I am a native of Reading and know that this area and Seneca Lake are gifts to be cherished and protected. I feel a responsibility to do what I can to protect these waters and this land. So I pray, I walk, I send letters, I call my state representatives and today, I stand at the gates of Crestwood to demonstrate my resolve. I am a teacher and a teacher of teachers. Today, I teach by putting my freedom in jeopardy in order to bring attention to the potential risks inherent in Crestwood’s plans."

The total number of civil disobedience arrests in the eight-month-old campaign against gas storage now stands at 332.

Crestwood’s methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last October 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.

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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.