Gas Free Seneca, opponent of propane storage in the Watkins Glen area, portrays itself as “Little Red Riding Hood” in a battle with “The Big Bad Wolf,” but it’s just the opposite. This is Part III. Read Part I here and Part !! here.
Just how have the Ithacans a/k/a Gas Free Seneca been able to organize resistance to what appears to reasonable people as a simple, low-environmental-impact, property-tax lowering, job-creating, necessary project for the local and national economy, that the free market is calling for?
Well, they’ve done it through creating a series of myths that have been swallowed hook, line and sinker by their “true believers” … akin to Jim Jones saying “Trust me, this Kool Aid will lead you folks to Nirvana!” Except, the Gas Free Seneca true believers are still here to repeat, over and over, those same myths. Though many of these myths are downright preposterous, they won’t die a quiet death, because they keep getting repeated, ala Goebbels.
Gas Free Seneca’s Myths and Their True Believers
“True believers” is just a nice synonym for “useful idiots” (a phrase stemming from the 1960s to describe socialist/communist sympathizers) – people who did not understand the big picture nor that the true goal was not “equality for all” (and all equally-poor!), but rather all power to the select few, with concurrent destruction of private property rights. And, you know how the Communist Russia experiment worked-out, with a final collapse of the Russian Federation’s economy in 1989.
The problem is that most of today’s protesters do not know history well, and in fact many or most were not yet born in the “60s.”
So, let’s look at each myth briefly, and why reasonable people see holes in it:
MYTH No. 1: “It’s just wrong to put Liquified Petroleum Gas under Seneca Lake!”
No! The cavities lie below the hillside, between NYS Route 14 and the Lake, not “under Seneca Lake.”
MYTH No. 2: “Explosive propane will blow up the whole hillside!”
No! Propane cannot explode, there is no oxidizer mixed-in; it is classified as a “Flammable” substance by DOT, and the trucks are placarded for that.
Dr. Joseph Campbell knows his chemistry, yet persists in using the term “explosive propane” for its impact-value, though I have admonished him on this topic.
Bill Huston, well-known to readers here for his calming-chants at public hearings, even created photo-shopped pictures to promote this myth, e.g.:
MYTH No. 3: “The 6-spur rail yard will be a clanking, noisy operation that will keep neighbors awake, and be an eyesore!”
This ignores the practical fact that railroad switching would only occur once per day (daytime) and then the railroad cars sit attached to their loading/unloading booms for the next 22 or so hours.
GFS has gone to the trouble of repeatedly showing a picture of a large rail switching-yard under dreary sky to try to show what the supposed facility would look like:
Unfortunately for them, any novice can figure out this is a switching yard, as there are no platforms and connecting arms for loading/unloading as there would be in a real LPG handling facility. Strikeout!
MYTH No. 4: “The 8 to 10 jobs created are miniscule, not worth the risk.”
So, 8 to 10 “gas/energy jobs” are not worthy of value, compared to “vineyard jobs,” that are seasonal and minimum-wage with no benefits? Who are we kidding here? These new jobs are full-time, year-round and each will stimulate 2.5 to 4 other jobs; far-different than ag-jobs in building the solid year-round foundation for the local economy.
Gas Free Seneca’s own web site says this:
“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.”
Do the math: This shows vineyard workers make $16,770/year and winery workers make $24,090/year, on average. These are not incomes that will pay the family’s mortgage. Those 8 to 10 LPG jobs, though, will add to the 275 existing manufacturing jobs that are the economic foundation of Schuyler County.
MYTH No. 5: “This hill-side is to be the energy storage hub of the Northeast US.”
No, this phrase (taken from an Inergy Corporate Annual Report) refers to the collection of gas and liquid-storage facilities in a general 70-mile wide area in southern New York, not just the Watkins Glen facility. Gas Free Seneca has taken it out-of-context and twisted it to mean something it was never meant to, nor will ever mean. The group of facilities actually referred-to is: Stagecoach near Owego (gas); Thomas Corners near Bath (gas); Steuben Gas near Bath (gas); Savona (LPG), Seneca Gas near Watkins Glen (gas); Finger Lakes Storage near Watkins Glen (LPG). Each one a farm-sized acreage, spread over 70 miles.
MYTH No. 6: “There will be terrible truck traffic and the LPG trucks will run over tourists. There will be 70,000 truck-trips per year!”
Uh, remember the calendar folks!: LPG shipping season is in Winter; tourist season is in Summer! The two do not compete or overlap. The intended loading/unloading rate at the new LPG storage facility is 4 trucks per hour. Most of the liquid will come in by pipeline, and railroad Car. Most will go out by railroad car with trucking to distributors in range who don’t have rail delivery.
MYTH No. 7: “The earth’s rocks are cracked and leaky! Propane will leak-out, and annihilate Watkins Glen, just like in Hutchinson, Kansas!”
Then why is all that gas still down in the earth to be recovered? Salt, the actual “storage container” is plastic in nature, cold-flows under pressure, and is self-healing. It is not brittle like the pictures of cracked rocks being used to promote the “earth is leaky” mythical construct. The cavities and wells are subjected every five years to what is called a mechanical integrity test (MIT) which subjects the wells and connected-cavity to a major over-pressure (typically 600 psi) for an extended-time, to prove they are tight with no leakage.
In the Hutchinson, KS case, the leak-path was out old unknown oil-wells into porous horizontal strata that took the gas seven miles, where it caused havoc with fires and damage. That situation, and the MIT testing technique there that was inadequate, is totally different than the Watkins Glen situation. NYS DEC’s professional geologists and regulatory overseers understand this.
MYTH No. 8: “There are so many old salt wells in Watkins Glen, surely there will be leaks into the village itself, just like in Hutchinson, Kansa!”
This myth is embellished with a picture from the wall of the Harbor Hotel, with old salt wells marked, the following being an example:
The locations of the old salt wells are well-known here, and unused ones are “plugged” (filled with cement), very different from the Kansas situation which had myriad old gas wells, abandoned, un-plugged, with unknown locations. Plus, modern MIT techniques include individual well testing using the “nitrogen interface technique”, so that even a slow leak from a well would be detected.
MYTH No. 9: “Seneca Lake will be come polluted, making it undrinkable.”
How? Propane is sparingly-soluble in water, and even if put into water, it will not mix, and will float to the surface and rapidly evaporate off. And, who in their right mind would let leak a bunch of highly valuable propane anyway? Brine? — It is just “salty water” (albeit, 26% salt by weight), and salt from it is no different than putting salt on roadways in winter, and into water softeners at people’s homes. Even if it were conceivable to spill an entire brine pond (from a double-lined, civil-engineered structure mind you!), the amount of salt added would not make the massive Seneca Lake body of water “undrinkable.” That has been verified with calculations by Dr. John Halfman of Hobart & William College at Geneva.
Dr. Halfman is the identifiable “Seneca Lake Water Expert.” He actually warns of eutrophication as Seneca Lake’s worst enemy (the politically-correct wineries really add to its nutrient-loading), together with pesticide residues that come from, again, politically-correct vineyards.
MYTH No. 10: “Wine Not Brine!”
Yeah, as if the two industries were incompatible!
Look at history, as it teaches differently: With liquid storage done here since 1964, and gas storage since 1994, the wine industry and related-tourism has flourished. Why would it suddenly stop?
Oh, and does no one realize there is also a major gas-storage facility (Columbia Gas Transmission’s Dundee facility) near where Route 226 meets Route 14A? That one has about 90 wells and has a listed capacity of 11.4 billion cubic feet. Has that one scared-away the tourists? No, of course not. Are others even aware of it? Most I think not.
MYTH No. 11: “The 60-foot flare will blast away and keep people awake!”
Trying to paint the picture of a continuously-burning 60-foot flame into the air is just deliberately misleading. Again, what fool would wastefully-burn such a valuable commodity as LPG?
MYTH No. 12: “Last winter’s propane shortage was due to exporting propane, and due to Enterprise changing a pipeline to move liquid south instead of north.”
Here we have obfuscation at its best! No matter what Enterprise (aka Teppco) did down south to reverse a pipeline, there is still only one pipeline up to this area and north to Selkirk where it terminates. Had there been ample pipeline capacity, all that trucking from the wet-gas supply-areas would have been unnecessary. There is simply not enough pipeline capacity for the winter demand, and that is why storage-capacity in the area is necessary to ‘weather’ really cold winters.
That challenging situation last winter is nicely-covered in an Attorney General’s report from Missouri, posted online here:
But maybe “global warming” will save us from any more of those? Willing to place any of your own money on that? For enlightenment, look to the National Weather Service’s 30-year averages of temperatures. Last winter was just Mother Nature deferring to the Law of Averages.
MYTH No. 13: “Crestwood admits its pockets are not deep-enough to withstand a disaster, hence ‘we locals’ will be left holding the bag!”
Crestwood’s 10Q filing to the SEC includes this language:
Crestwood Midstream’s business involves many hazards and operational risks, some of which may not be adequately covered by insurance. The occurrence of a significant accident or other event that is not adequately insured could curtail its operations and have a material adverse effect on its business, results of operations, financial condition and ability to make cash distributions to its unitholders.
This is standard boilerplate legalese, and Gas Free Seneca is trumping it up. But, it’s simply a case of giving a pharmaceutical type warning to ensure no one can argue all risks weren’t disclosed – nothing more.
MYTH No. 14: “An earthquake will rupture the cavities! There is a major fault along the edge of the Lake!”
Again, here we have some creative photo-shopping, stimulated by a small, deep earthquake under Seneca Lake in 2013 about a dozen miles to the north:
The USGS doesn’t suggest New York State is subject to extensive earthquakes and this small (2.0) earthquake, more than five miles deep, would probably not even be noticed by a person standing on land above it, and does not threaten any surface facility. It is probably a relaxation of the continental-crust from having a huge ice-load upon it during the last Ice Age.
The supposed “Major Fault” that has become common knowledge through repetition of this myth was drawn on a map as a dotted-line 40 years ago, indicating an “inferred fault” that was an extension of a known fault farther north. But, there is no evidence to indicate it even exists down in this area.
Sensible people don’t buy-into this myth.
Myth No. 15: “Since Crestwood has its headquarters in Houston, all the profits from here will flow to the Texans, and we are left stuck with the pollution here!”
Laughable, but indeed creative! Aren’t wages ‘local’? Any capital investment entails local spending – pipefitter and electrician wages, motel rooms, gravel from local pits, hauled by local trucks, wire and tools from local suppliers, etc. plus property taxes flowing to the local, county and school district. And, the increased tax-base defrays other residents’ property taxes! The Ithacans’ antagonism to any energy business is showing with this myth. It is equally silly, in fact, to argue Starkey Point and Magnus Ridge Wineries’ profits go to “foreign” owners because they are “out-of-county.”
MYTH No. 16: “Crestwood tried to hide the 1969 Jacoby paper to the Salt Symposium on Cavity 2 geology from FERC, but we found it and it shows the cavity is unstable!.”
This paper discussed early experience with LPG storage at Watkins Glen, and a rock layer fall that had occurred after three years of using water for propane displacement. It includes drawings current geologists consider “cartoonish” as they do not properly represent the physical realities. It also discusses the very first application in 1967 at Watkins Glen of SONAR Surveying to mapping a cavity.
Jacoby’s message, paraphrased, was to “Use saturated brine for displacement, not water, so as to avoid cavity changes.”
His presentation was not included in the FERC submittal because it is merely a historical curiosity at this point, and its drawings were just wrong in many respects.
Gas Free Seneca enlisted EarthJustice to hire geologist H.C. Clark to try to convince FERC this paper was proof-positive of horrible faults and unstable cavity-roof. His critical and confusing tome, found here, seems to be deliberately written to confuse the reader. “Thrust faults” within the salt (which is a layer-upon-layer flow) are discussed as if they were faults that cut the rocks above the salt to the surface (which do not exist in this area at all).
The “anti-carbon” press had a field day with it, re-publishing articles based upon his text, such as this, this and this. DC Bureau, of course, is on the Park Foundation payroll and, therefore, is hardly a credible source.
FERC’s professional geologists took Clark’s work and cut it to pieces, making it official by doing it in the Order Issuing Certificate with the key rebuttals on pages 9-13.
MYTH No. 17: “A train full of propane tankers is destined to fall into Watkins Glen Gorge!”
Yup. A train-falling-off-bridge accident is right around the corner, but only if LPG storage is done!
What about the many propane tankers safely-carried over the trestle already and routinely day-by-day? And not just LPG, but many other nasty chemicals and commodities. Let’s ban cars of Anhydrous Ammonia also! The farmer’s don’t really need fertilizer badly-enough to threaten public safety, do they?
Minuscule risks are already all-around us. The current trestle at the top of the Gorge has carried trains since being rebuilt after its footings washed-out in the flood of ’35. Norfolk Southern has a vested-interest in keeping its trains on that trestle, not in the gorge. In 79 years, nothing has fallen off of it but people. Reasonable people will bet money that trend will continue unabated.
Myth No. 18: “This rush to industrialization will ruin people’s health!”
The ideologically-driven study in Colorado about health versus proximity to wells was debunked as soon as it was printed….and by their very own Colorado State Department of Health.
Any student of history knows that technological advancement, modern industries, and improved health of the population all go hand-in-hand.
The biggest threat to individual health is poverty.
MYTH No. 19: “All it takes is a single bad spill or accident to destroy the “brand” of the Finger Lakes, and all the wine-tourism will cease!”
What? We have car-accidents from tipsy wine-tasters frequently, and that hasn’t hurt “The Brand”!
Why does Gas Free Seneca think this myth is even credible to really gullible people, much less the general public? Is their elitism showing through here, and they think we‘re really that stupid?
Myth No. 20: “Crestwood is a bully to dare threaten to close the Salt Plant if they don’t get their way!”
No one can find or relate this ever being said, by any Crestwood person. The closest thing to it is a county legislator saying “He feared the Salt Plant might eventually close down if further gas and LPG storage was not allowed to keep it a viable business.”
Again, any Crestwood bullying is a mythical creation of the opposition.
We only needed to wait to the July 14th Schuyler County Legislature meeting to see actual, ugly bullying take place as protesters yelled at and shoved legislators after the meeting.
And now, you can see it yourself online here:
The reliable perma-protestor Bill Huston has published the video that he took of me and the general protester melee after the Legislature meeting here on July 14th:
You will note in part of this, a view of Sandra Steingrabber, the penultimate “Ithacan”. Also, see Joseph Campbell, who seems to be running-away from the noisy attack on me that his group has stimulated.
MYTH No. 21: “LPG Storage can’t be done because it is not part of the Schuyler County Emergency Plan, and the Emergency-Responders can’t handle it!.”
You know, it is not particularly odd that non-existent facilities are not addressed in an Emergency Plan. Whoever cooked that one up seems to have a poor understanding of how things occur in time-sequence, one action stimulating adjustments in other places.
It has also been vehemently pointed-out by Volunteer Emergency Responders themselves that they indeed do train on flammable gas and liquid fires at the Fire Academy located right here in Montour Falls, Schuyler County.
MYTH No. 22: “County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan is guilty of conflict of interest!”
Being a civil engineer, knowledgeable of things like this, does not create a “conflict of interest.” Nor does having former ownership of a business designing roads, pads and ponds for gas-related business in Pennsylvania make one “conflicted” in dealing with a New York state LPG storage facility; just intelligent and well-educated, in reality.
MYTH No. 23: “The Five Schuyler Legislators who voted for the Resolution of Support on June 9th must be “on the take” somehow.
Slander without evidence will get you nowhere. Provide proof.
MYTH No. 24: “We (Gas Free Seneca supporters) represent the majority of Schuyler County.”
Being able to muster enough “true believers” to pack the Legislative Chambers (it only takes 30 people to do that!) is not evidence that sympathizers represent “the majority”. This is speculation and mis-placed hubris, pure and simple.
Part IV to follow will examine the implications of these myths. Stay with us!