After 650 arrests over two and a half years, We Are Seneca Lake activists are celebrating a successful campaign that forced Crestwood Equity Partners to retreat from plans to expand methane storage in New York’s Finger Lakes region.
“It takes consistency and dedication, and we had that,” said Laura Salamendra, a member of We Are Seneca Lake in Geneva, NY. “It started small but it grew larger than we could have imagined.”
Crestwood, a Texas-based corporation, sought to store methane in unstable salt caverns along the shores of Seneca Lake, and had permission to do so. The rubber stamp machine of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had granted a permit for the gas storage project in October, 2014.
Later that same month, ten activists were arrested in front of Crestwood’s facility. A groundswell of community opposition to Crestwood’s project followed. Word spread through the community quickly and mass arrests soon became frequent as grandparents, students, farmers, scientists, contractors, cooks, and those in the wine industry came out to express opposition to the project.
“I took a stand against Crestwood because we had no choice,” Salamendra said. “This is our drinking water, the drinking water of our families. The project threatened our safety and we couldn’t allow it. We would fight longer than them because it wasn’t about profit, but about protecting one another. We have to do that when government agencies won’t.”
A few celebrities even traveled to the small town of Reading in Schuyler County to add their voices to the chorus. Climate change author Bill McKibben, actor James Cromwell, and filmmaker Josh Fox joined the ranks of those protecting Seneca Lake. In all, there were 657 arrests as part of We Are Seneca Lake’s campaign in front of Crestwood’s gates.
“Don’t think people can’t make a difference,” Salamendra said. “People can prevail.”
Methane storage threatened the drinking water for over 100,000 residents living around Seneca Lake. The project put the region’s agriculture and eco-tourism in jeopardy, and would have expanded fossil fuel infrastructure over the growth of green energy jobs. The shaky shale formations in which the caverns are embedded also raised serious geologic concerns.
“We could not have done this without all the people who stood up to Crestwood when they stood out in the cold, the rain, who were forced to endure hazardous storms, unconstitutional court closures, and a biased judge who ruled us guilty before he even listened to us,” said Jan Quarles, another member of We Are Seneca Lake from Ovid, NY. “We are so grateful for the assistance of lawyers like Sujata Gibson and all of our Seneca Lake Defenders who stood up to injustice. This is truly a victory for people power.”