Wine Over Brine

My home near Seneca Lake in New York is famous for a lot of things — good wine, fine food, and the Finger Lakes region’s beautiful scenery.

Now, though, Crestwood Midstream — a Houston-based company that drills, stores, and distributes fracked natural gas — wants to put my community on the map as a hub for dirty energy.

Although New Yorkers had the good sense to ban the practice of “fracking” last year, the industry still has big plans to expand its infrastructure in my state. Developers have proposed hundreds of miles of new pipeline, along with ports for export.

At Seneca Lake, Crestwood Midstream wants to build one of the nation’s largest storage facilities for compressed gas.

For this purpose, it selected a structurally unsound old salt mine beneath Seneca Lake — right in the heart of our tourism, wine, and food industry.

Our economy is built on tourism. Wine Enthusiast magazine recently selected the Finger Lakes as one of the world’s top 10 “wine travel” destinations, ranking it alongside destinations in Italy, New Zealand, France, and Spain. Nearby Watkins Glen was recently voted the third most popular state park in the country by USA Today readers.

New York State’s $4.8-billion wine industry is more than a source of pride for the Finger Lakes. It employs over 1,000 people and is growing year by year.

Farming and food production are mainstays as well, with the majority of land in our region devoted to farming. New York ranks third in the nation for organic farms, many of which are located right here in the Finger Lakes. Tourists come to visit our farms and enjoy a growing number of farm-to-table restaurants.

Gas storage, though, threatens all of this.

That’s one reason 324 local businesses have formed a coalition to oppose the gas storage facility. There’s great concern about what increased truck traffic, noise, and pollution could mean for their livelihoods. There’s also the risk of a catastrophic accident.

Salt mines, after all, make for a dangerous storage option. Since 1972, there have been 10 incidents of catastrophic failure at underground gas storage facilities, all of which were salt caverns — even though salt caverns make up only 7 percent of storage sites.

The risk is increased at Seneca Lake, where Crestwood plans to use a structurally unsound cavern that runs beside an earthquake fault.

During the 1960s, the roof of this cavern collapsed without warning. A similar accident with the cavern full of gas would be catastrophic. Nearby residents fear the risk of explosion or the contamination of the lake, which is a source of drinking water for 100,000 people.

The risks associated with handling the highly combustible gases Crestwood wants to stockpile are high at every step.

There’s a risk of a truck or train explosion, a wellhead failure, or migration of the gas and its brine into our lake. Tourists will have to dodge trucks carrying explosive materials on our rural roads.

Even under the best circumstances, the site will produce high levels of air pollution from compressors and open pits, light pollution from a 60-foot flare, and loud and continuous noise.

No wonder it’s not just local businesses that are concerned.

At least 22 local governments representing 740,000 residents have passed resolutions opposing the gas storage plan, and more than 200 citizens have been arrested while protesting at the proposed site. This summer, perhaps tourists will join in the civil disobedience at our lake.

We’ve banned fracking here in New York. It’s time for legislators to take the next step and tell the oil and gas industry that the Finger Lakes aren’t an appropriate warehouse for these dangerous materials.

Our future is in wine and renewable energy, not explosive trucks and brine.