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19 spills in 32 years: Ithaca firm details U.S. Salt discharges into Seneca Lake; Crestwood downplays findings


This is an aerial photo of the Crestwood/Con-Edison natural-gas-storage site in the Schuyler County town of Reading. It was taken in 2012.
It was taken in 2012.

READING — An Ithaca firm specializing in environmental database services says Seneca Lake has been polluted by south-end brine spills and petroleum releases repeatedly over the past 40 years.

In releasing the information obtained from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting Inc. is asking the state to deny issuing the permits Crestwood Equity Partners LP needs to store natural gas and propane on 576 acres north of Watkins Glen.

Officials from the Houston-based company, which bought the site in 2008, downplayed Hang’s findings.

“We cannot speak to incidents that occurred before we bought U.S. Salt in 2008,” Crestwood vice president Brad Bacon wrote in an email to the Times.

“We knew that significant catch-up investment would be required, and we have spent tens of millions to upgrade and modernize plant operations. Although our goal is an incident-free workplace, the incidents that have occurred since we finished replacing the brine pipeline system in 2013 have been minor.

“Despite what this group would like you to believe, there is nothing nefarious or catastrophic here. The state’s experts had this data before strongly endorsing our propane storage project.”

Hang wrote Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter dated Sunday asking him to reject Crestwood’s application and impose a moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects.

“Many spills were never cleaned up to state standards, even though they caused extensive petroleum contamination, resulted in huge brine discharges of up to 470,000 gallons, polluted groundwater or directly impacted Seneca Lake,” Hang said. “Citizens who want to preserve Seneca Lake will be shocked to learn about massive pollution spills reported over the course of four decades at the giant salt mine and gas storage facility in Reading. This information documents that New York authorities are unable to prevent or clean up toxic spills that have polluted one of the most famous lakes in the world.”

Hang listed information on each of 19 spills or discharges from U.S. Salt, International Salt and Akzo Salt from 1974 to 2016. He wrote that the DEC has a responsibility and obligation through the federal Clean Water Act to establish and implement a policy which protects existing water quality from being degraded.

“Given that mandate and other legal requirements to safeguard New York’s water quality, I respectfully request that you deny hydrocarbon storage permit applications pursuant to the New York State Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law and related state approvals required for methane and LPG facilities to be built and operated in Reading by Arlington Storage Co. LLC, Crestwood Equity Partners LP, Stagecoach Gas Services LLC, Finger Lakes LPG Gas Storage LLC or other inter-related corporate entities,” he said.

Hang maintained that of the dozens of pollution releases over the past 32 years, most of the spills were never cleaned up in compliance with state standards — and some caused widespread groundwater contamination.

“Others simply dissipated in Seneca Lake without any remedial effort whatsoever, even though heavy soil sheen reportedly spread up to 1.5 miles,” he wrote. “With all due respect, I believe it would be irresponsible to grant approvals for massive new fossil fuel infrastructure projects that can potentially cause irreparable harm to New York’s environmental and public health while perpetuating New York’s addiction to natural gas, LPG and other fossil fuels.”

Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of the 11 Finger Lakes, provides drinking water for more than 100,000 people, including residents of Geneva and Waterloo.

Where things stand

Houston-based Crestwood Equity Partners LP has two projects in the works for its 576-acre site in the Schuyler County town of Reading.

The first is a joint venture that involves Consolidated Edison. The plan, called Stagecoach Gas Services, would expand natural gas storage in abandoned salt caverns on the site. Earlier this year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted an extension for construction on the expansion to begin.

Meanwhile, Crestwood has scaled back its proposal to store liquefied petroleum gas in other salt caverns. Their revised plan includes propane but not butane, eliminates one of two brine ponds, and takes a rail and truck transportation hub out of the equation. The DEC has yet to rule on Crestwood’s application for a permit.