The latest battleground in the debate over fracked gas is Seneca Lake, New York’s largest Finger Lake. What’s happening at Seneca Lake is more than the birth of an environmental disaster — it’s a sin.
Seneca Lake is slated to become a major storage hub for natural gas in the Northeast.
If you live in upstate New York, you’ve heard of Seneca Lake. At more than 600 feet deep, it’s one of New York’s largest lakes and home to many of the region’s best wineries. It’s also a source of drinking water for more than 100,000 local residents.
The lives of thousands of people hinge on the ecological integrity of Seneca Lake. With so much at stake, you would think that the lake and the surrounding area would be legally insulated from obvious environmental threats.
But apparently not.
In December 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking — the practice of injecting water and (undisclosed) chemicals into the ground at high pressure to mine natural gas.
Despite the ban on fracking in New York state, a ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) cleared the way for Texas-based Crestwood Midstream to make Seneca Lake a central storage and transportation hub for natural gas in the Northeast.
If Crestwood Midstream gets its way, the company will use salt caverns located beneath and around Seneca Lake to store compressed natural gas (methane) and millions of barrels of liquified petroleum gas, making Seneca Lake one of the largest storage facilities in the country.
Storing LPG and methane at Seneca Lake is a terrible idea.
The salt caverns are unlined and were created in the late 1800s. They are inherently leaky, unstable and were never intended to store gas or petroleum products. The people who built them didn’t have cars or electricity, let alone the technological know-how to design an advanced energy containment facility.
As you might expect, petroleum and natural gas don’t play well with drinking water. In areas of the country where fracking is permitted, water contamination is so bad that residents can reportedly light the drinking water coming out of their kitchen faucets with a match.
Maybe I’m missing something …
But storing unprecedented amounts of petroleum and methane in dilapidated salt caverns beneath one of New York state’s most important lakes seem like an incredibly ignorant thing to do.
According to We Are Seneca Lake, a group established to block Crestwood Midstream’s plans, LPG and methane gas will be stored in caverns that are less than a quarter mile away from each other, creating a serious safety issue in addition to the environmental concerns.
Although Seneca Lake and Crestwood Midstream have been the focus of unprecedented anti-fracking protests, it’s uncertain whether New York State and environmental groups will be able to prevent the company from moving forward.
What’s happening at Seneca Lake is a sin.
Sin is a big word. It refers to any act or behavior that offends God and the divine order. Call me crazy, but I think the exploitation of the environment for profit falls into the category of sinful. And I’m not alone.
Speaking off the cuff, in an address he gave at the University of Molise (an agricultural region in Italy) in 2014, Pope Francis said:
“When I look at America, also my own homeland (South America), so many forests, all cut, that have become land … that can no longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to her give us what she has within her.”
In John 10:10, Jesus said that he came so that we would have life and “have it abundantly.” But abundant life feels more and more like a pipe dream these days.
Too often, the pursuit of profit has been used as an excuse for the exploitation of people and the planet.
When corporate interests and shareholder interests are allowed to decide what’s right and wrong, they usually decide against the interests of Jesus and his desire to bring abundant life into the world.
Proponents of Crestwood Midstream argue that the company’s plan will bring jobs to the Finger Lakes. According to the NYS DEC, the project will bring fewer than 10 jobs to Schuyler County. But the price for those few, meager jobs could be the health and safety of the families who call Seneca Lake home.
Any third-grader can tell you that what’s happening at Seneca Lake is borderline evil. It won’t create or sustain life. If anything, it will destroy it.
By preventing abundant life, Crestwood Midstream has positioned itself in direct opposition to Jesus’ work.
That’s offensive to God. And in my book, that’s a sin.