Crestwood will conduct new tests
WATKINS GLEN--In response to fresh evidence of salt cavern leaks, Crestwood says it will conduct a new series of pressure tests of a unlined cavern near Watkins Glen that it proposes to use for high-pressure storage of liquid petroleum gas, or LPG.
A subsidiary of the Houston-based company is asking the state Department of Environmental Conservation to suspend any decision on its controversial eight-year bid for an LPG storage permit pending the outcome of the new tests.
The surprise disclosure came in a May 17 letter from Kevin Bernstein, a Syracuse attorney for the Finger Lakes LPG Storage subsidiary, to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.
Bernstein did not elaborate in his letter on the incident or condition that triggered the alarm.
But he noted the new owners of U.S. Salt -- which Crestwood agreed to sell last fall -- were developing new solution mining salt wells and one of those wells "may be in communication" with an adjacent cavity called "Gallery 10" or with other wells or caverns nearby.
In addition to pressure-testing Gallery 10, Bernstein said the company "will install a pressure monitor on Well 44," an entry-point to "Gallery 1," which Crestwood proposes to use for high-pressure LPG storage.
Opponents of Crestwood's proposal have long contended caverns in and around the U.S. Salt property are riddled with faults and are unsuitable for storing explosive hydrocarbons under high pressure.
The company has argued the caverns are safe, but it has insisted on keeping confidential much of the data that might support that conclusion.
The need to install a pressure monitor on Well 44 "suggests that the integrity of 'Gallery 1' may be compromised," Deborah Goldberg of EarthJustice wrote Seggos May 18 in response to the Bernstein letter.
Goldberg represents Gas Free Seneca, a local environmental group formed to oppose the LPG storage bid. GFS claims 450 Seneca Lake property owners and more than 500 area businesses also seek to block the project.
The DEC has already drafted a proposed permit, and an administrative law judge at the DEC has issued detailed findings. But Seggos hasn't made a final decision.
Bernstein did not return a phone call to explain whether Crestwood or Kissner Group Holdings, the new owners of U.S. Salt, detected the potential problem leak. Calls to a spokesman for Kissner also went unanswered.
The DEC acknowledged it has received Bernstein's letter and said it is evaluating it.
Bernstein said in his letter to Seggos that "during the development of one of the (Kissner) wells, Well 64, we became aware that Well 64 may be in communication with either Gallery 10 (which consists of Wells 18, 52 and 57) and/or other nearby wells...."
The purpose of the letter, Bernstein wrote, "is to report this development to you and ask that you hold in abeyance any decision on the appeals that are pending until the outcome of this pressure test has been reported to the (DEC) and those involved in this proceeding have had an opportunity to comment."
H.C. Clark of Houston, Gas Free Seneca's primary expert on cavern geology, has consistently argued potential cavern integrity flaws have been inadequately disclosed in the permit application, Goldberg wrote in her letter to Seggos.
"At the very least," Goldberg added, "Finger Lakes LPG should be required to disclose to Dr. Clark ... all studies of the wells at the site, including those conducted by U.S. Salt and other entities affiliated with Finger Lakes LPG, that have been conducted over the past five years....
"Finger Lakes also should be required to disclose other reported observations of conditions that prompted the need for additional testing that may appear in email, text messages or other media."
DEC records show a permit application to install a brine line at Well 64 was suspended on May 18.
PETER MANTIUS is a Watkins Glen-based journalist. For additional information and access to the Bernstein and Goldberg letters, see his online blog at: https://waterfrontonline.blog/