Speakers, lake group express gas storage concerns
ITHACA—The Shaleshock Action Alliance group, a movement that “works toward protecting the communities and the environment from exploitative gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region,” held a public meeting Thursday, Jan. 27, at the Human Services Building in Ithaca. The featured speakers were Thomas Shelly, chemical safety and hazardous materials specialist, and Peter Mantius, journalist on business and finance and employed by the web site, DCBureau, a web publication staffed by journalists dedicated to in-depth stories covering the environment and national security.
The purpose of the meeting was to examine the proposed $40 million LPG storage facility in Reading. Finger Lakes LPG Storage, LLC, a subsidiary of Inergy, a Kansas City company that specializes in natural gas pipelines and gas and LPG storage, plans to build an underground LPG storage facility using existing salt mines. Over 30 people attended the two-hour presentation by Shelly and Mantius. Their chief concerns included the construction of a brine pond, the transferring of the LPG and brine to and from the storage caverns, accidents, the feasibility of gas leaking out of the caverns, the affect of increased truck and rail traffic and the accountability of any negative impact from the massive project.
Rain water leaks down into the salt mines and, mixing with the salt, creates brine and currently fills the caverns. During the storage season, the gas would displace the brine. The brine would be stored in a brine pond. During the heating season the brine would be pumped back into the storage mines, displacing the gas and maintaining constant pressure. Mantius stated the 18 acre brine pond would measure 1,052 feet long, between 386 and 608 feet wide, and 32 feet deep. This plan is for this pond to be between Route 14 and Seneca Lake, 400 feet above the lake water. Shelly pointed out some of the problems of transferring the gas and brine including maintaining pressure. Shelly said constant care would need to be taken regarding leaks in the pipeline. With the storage mines being so deep, the temperature will be warmer and the gas will expand and contract.
Speaking on the dangers of storing LPG in salt caverns, Mantius quoted John M. Hopper from a trade publication, Energy Markets, who reported there are roughly 400 major underground storage facility for hydrocarbons in the U.S. But only about 40 of those are in salt caverns. Even so, all 10 of what he classifies as “catastrophic failures” at underground facilities since 1972 have occurred at salt caverns. The worst accident was the 1992 explosion of a salt cavern in Brenham, Texas that was storing LPG. The explosion registered more than 4.0 on the Richter Scale and reportedly could be heard and felt 70 miles away in Houston.
Along with a potential explosion there are other concerns. Shelly pointed out the shale in the area is full of fractures and faults for 11,500 vertical feet. The area does have the occasional earthquake, usually centered in the Buffalo area with a Richter Scale of around three or four. He asks, “The tremors do affect the area and how would these affect the storage caverns?” The proposed well casing is the same type of casing used in the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico that failed. Another concern of Shelly’s is the fact that Marcellus shale is very radioactive and asks if tests have been done to see if the gas will pick up this radioactivity.
According to the Legal Notice of State Environmental Quality Review, the facility will have the capability to load and unload 48 rail cars and 96 trucks in a 24 hour period. Shelly points out the increased rail and truck traffic will increase the amount of low level ozone contaminates. He goes on to say these contaminates have an adverse affect on plants and one of the most susceptible plant is the grape vine. He is concerned the grape harvest in the area will suffer.
Both men question the possible negative impact on Schuyler County. They asked: Who would be financially responsible should an accident happen? Who will be responsible for the increased maintenance on the roads and rails due to the increased traffic? Who will reimburse the grape growers if crops diminish? The speakers then pointed out that LLC is a part of the name of the company Finger Lakes Storage, LLC. They quickly added, “LLC stands for ‘limited liability company.’”
Another group has raised concerns about the $40 million gas storage project. Although this was not mentioned at the Ithaca meeting reported above, a letter last week was sent to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association (SLPWA) that urged the NYSDEC to include a comprehensive geological study of the Seneca Lake basin as they consider this gas storage proposal. A number of scientific papers have been written regarding the higher than average chloride concentration of Seneca Lake and the potential intrusion of the lake basin with the Syracuse Shale and rock salt formation that is proposed for LPG storage.
SLPWA is concerned that the dissolution of salt into the lake suggests potential pathways to the proposed salt cavern storage areas. SLPWA believes that to fully understand the the geological suitability of the existing salt caverns for the safe storage of LPG, the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) Scoping Outline needs to go beyond “borrowing from publicly available information submitted in connection with the underground storage permit application and site specific information.”
Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association strongly recommends that the DSEIS Scoping Outline include a geological assessment and additional testing based on an intrusion of salt into Seneca Lake from these salt mines to assure that the proposed facility can be used safely for the long term storage of LPG.
SLPWA is an organization of over 300 property owners/residents in the Seneca Lake watershed.The association’s Web site here has current information regarding its activities.