Group Fights Gas Storage and Transportation Hub in Finger Lakes Region
Gas Free Seneca was formed in early 2011 in response to Inergy, LP’s plan to “build an integrated gas storage and transportation hub in the Northeast,” according to its press announcement, at the U.S. Salt plant just North of Watkins Glen, NY. Gas Free Seneca started out as a small group of concerned citizens trying to spread the word about the proposed LPG storage facility. Since its inception, Gas Free Seneca has grown into a coalition of concerned citizens, local business owners and regional environmental groups. The goal for Gas Free Seneca is to protect Seneca Lake, its environs and local home-grown businesses from the threat of massive industrialization.
Inergy purchased the U.S. Salt plant in 2008. The company plans to spend $40-50 million to develop liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage in depleted salt caverns at the U.S. Salt property that have been capped for more than 50 years. Inergy’s initial permit application calls for 2.1 million barrels (88.2 million gallons) of liquid propane and butane storage.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was concerned enough about the potential for significant environmental impacts from this project that they took over Lead Agency Status from the Town of Reading and required Inergy to submit a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS). Inergy submitted the statement, but it was termed inadequate by the DEC, and the company will soon address additional concerns as outlined by the DEC. Once the DEC releases the final amended DSEIS, the public will have an opportunity to comment on this planned project before it goes to the Reading Town Planning Board for final approval.
A portion of a 576-acre site around the U.S. Salt plant in Reading, N.Y., which is roughly 2 miles north of Watkins Glen on the west side of Seneca Lake.
According to the DSEIS, Schuyler County gets 8-10 permanent, full-time jobs and approximately $440,000 per year to the county, school district and Town of Reading in lieu of taxes. The SchuylerCounty Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) receives a one-time payment of $290,000.
THE BRINE POND
As this facility moves the LPG in and out of the salt caverns, the gas will be displaced by brine, which will be stored above ground in a 14-acre, open air pit situated on the steep hillside roughly 2,500 feet from Seneca Lake with an earthen berm on the downhill side. A total of 27 acres with its berm, this pond is designed to hold nearly 100 million gallons of brine that is many times saltier than seawater. The DEC has expressed concerns about liner stability and the overall design proposed for this project.
To service the storage facility, Inergy will build a new truck depot capable of loading and unloading 4 semi-trucks per hour and a new 6 track siding capable of loading and unloading 24 rail cars in 12 hours. This depot will be able to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year round, bringing trucks and train cars filled with propane and butane in and out of this facility in a constant cycle. The trucks will run through RTs 14 and 14A and the train cars will cross the tracks running over the Gorge.
THE FLARE STACK
A 60-foot flare stack, with a clearly visible burning flame, would be erected to handle burn off of LPG during the brine transfer process. The DEC has questioned whether the proposed flare stack can handle the capacity that would be needed in certain instances.
The nature of injecting LPG deep into salt caverns requires machinery to compress the propane and butane and force it into the ground under high pressure. There will be four 700hp compressors on the site. Many of the concerns expressed by the DEC are focused on the noise level emitted from thesecompressors.
WHY CITIZENS AND LOCAL BUSINESSES ARE OPPOSING THIS FACILITY—IT’S BAD FOR OUR ECONOMY
Further industrialization of this region will irreparably damage the growing wine and tourism industries that many local families have worked for several generations to develop. Inergy has been acquiring LP and natural gas storage in this region since 2005 and as stated above, they hope to make the Finger Lakes Region, “a gas storage and transportation hub” for the northeastern states.
The company has documented plans to increase their salt cavern storage capacity to 5 million barrels (210 million gallons) of LPG and has recently acquired NYSEG’s 2 billion cubic feet of underground natural gas storage with plans to expand to 5-10 billion cubic feet. The volume of gas to be stored in this area is unprecedented. This proposed LPG storage facility alone will be the largest in the Northeast and one of the largest in the U.S.
Tourism Data (Not including wineries and vineyards)
In 2008, Schuyler, Seneca, Ontario, and Yates county visitors spent more than $307 million. The tourism sector employed 6,335 people and generated $146 million in labor income. Visitor spending contributed $20 million in local taxes, and $19 million in state taxes. Source: Andrew Rumbach (Doctoral Candidate Cornell University Dept. of City and Regional Planning)
Vineyards & Wineries around Seneca Lake
In 2010, there were 21 firms classified as grape vineyards, employing a total of 161 people and paying wages of approximately $2.7 million and 45 firms classified as wineries, employing 1,017 people and paying wages of approximately $24.5 million. The constant truck traffic running up and down Rt. 14, as well as the noise and visible industrial zone will hinder tourism to this region, and massive industrialization of this scale has been known to negatively affect property values. Source: NYS Dept. of Labor, Andrew Rumbach
Why would we risk all these jobs and livelihoods in wine production and tourism for an industrial landscape?
Relationship to Marcellus Shale Drilling
Although this is not a fracking issue, the relationship to it (via natural gas storage) is what
multiplies the level of industrialization. John Sherman, Inergy’s CEO, talks about the transportation and storage hub and its relationship to the Marcellus Shale in a video titled “Inergy: Making Marcellus Happen.” In it, he states:
“Inergy’s opportunities in the Northeast continue to be enhanced by the Marcellus Shale. The aggressive pace of exploration and development of the Marcellus will play an
important role in Inergy’s midstream growth.”
IT CREATES MASSIVE SAFETY HAZARDS
Unfortunately, this industry is not without accidents. Most alarming are the risks of catastrophic fires and explosions of millions of cubic feet of volatile liquid gas that can affect more than a 3-square-mile radius of the facility, encompassing Watkins Glen and surrounding homes and businesses.
According to a representative of Falcon Gas Storage, in 2002 there were 407 underground gas storage facilities in operation in the US and only 7 percent of them were salt cavern storage facilities. Since 1972, there have been 11 instances of catastrophic failure of underground gas storage facilities and each one has been a salt cavern facility. Many have included explosions with fire and loss of life, and some have required the evacuation of entire towns. Communities in states like Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri have lived with massive, industrial scale methane and LPG storage facilities as their neighbors and have had to adapt to potential dangers. Local communities have emergency management plans already in place and equipment and personnel to handle a worst case scenario. Our local, mostly volunteer, fire departments and emergency first responders are not equipped to handle disasters of this magnitude.
IT PUTS OUR BEAUTIFUL LAKE, THE SURROUNDING REGION, AND OUR HEALTH AT RISK
The proposed LPG facility represents air, water, soil and noise pollution concerns. Risks of gas leaks and compromised brine pits on steep slopes can devastate water and soil quality, as well as wildlife in and around the lake. Seneca Lake is a Class AA drinking water source for 100,000 people, and salt contamination to potable water supplies is nearly impossible to remediate. This facility and the upsurge in truck traffic will dramatically increase the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to be particularly harmful to grapevines. Massive industrial lights, noise and emissions from the compressors, trains and trucks at the center of a tourist region are cause for serious ongoing concern.
MISCONCEPTIONS AND REASONS WHY PEOPLE HAVE HESITATED TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST THIS PROJECT
“It’s nothing new.”
Because of the sheer size of the proposed project, and Inergy’s stated aim to become “the storage and transportation hub for the entire Northeast,” this is new. This project will create a level of industrialization that this region has not seen. “The salt caverns are so deep, they won’t affect us.” Even if no catastrophic event happens underground, what happens above ground is certainly going toaffect us in innumerable ways as outlined above.
“This is too political to get involved.”
This is not a political issue. This is largely an economic issue, as well as an issue of risk assessment. The citizens and businesses that make up the Gas Free Seneca coalition represent all major political party affiliations. We see this proposed project as a bad business deal that creates unnecessary health, safetyand environmental risks.
“This project will create jobs, and there is money to be made.”
Eight to ten jobs is miniscule compared to the jobs that would be lost in the wine and tourism industries if this deal goes through. The real money to be made from this project is Inergy’s, and this company isn’t even based in the Finger Lakes.
“People are scared to stand up by themselves.”
No one is alone in this fight. That is exactly why Gas Free Seneca was created—to create one unified coalition.
Thank you for taking the time to read more about this issue. We hope you will join us in our efforts to KEEP SENECA BEAUTIFUL!
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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