Last week Crestwood Midstream unexpectedly wanted to chat.
After more than five years of deriding critics of its proposal to store 88 million gallons of liquid propane gas in salt caverns on the shore of Seneca Lake — routinely labeling opponents as uninformed alarmists or worse — the Texas-based corporation suddenly wanted to have a sit-down.
It said it would consider dropping long-established plans to bring in nearly 2,000 railroad cars loaded with LPG annually, as well as ditch its application for construction of a railcar siding facility in the Town of Reading.
In exchange, Crestwood wanted Schuyler County legislators Michael Lausell and Van Harp to retract their objections to the project presented at a NY Department of Environmental Conservation “issues conference” in February 2015.
The compromise train-trade never got past a preliminary conversation between a DEC attorney (acting as a go-between) and Lausell.
The LPG trains officially have been identified by Schuyler County as a major, potential safety hazard, given that the LPG-laden railcars would cross an aged trestle spanning Watkins Glen State Park.
A derailment — and likely concomitant explosion and fire — would be catastrophic.
But even taking the trains out of the project equation, there remain too many other red flag safety issues and considerations, such as how an accident at the industrial project could negatively affect the regional tourist industry.
Or the impact if a Crestwood LPG tanker truck rolled over close to the Watkins Glen waterfront at a dangerous, county-identified curve on state Route 14.
Crestwood’s sudden interest in political horse-trading to advance state approval of the long stalled project might indicate corporate impatience by Consolidated Edison — Crestwood’s new partner in energy matters.
Con-Ed recently bought a 50-percent stake in Crestwood’s New York operations, ostensibly to get involved in the storage of natural gas at the Town of Reading site, just north of Watkins Glen.
Crestwood officials have publicly emphasized that Con-Ed is not directly involved in the LPG aspects of the 576-acre salt cavern site where storage of both LPG and natural gas is envisioned.
But despite protestations to the contrary, the two projects are linked by the geography of sharing the site, as well as a potentially deal-breaking legal issue that popped up just as the DEC was attempting its LPG diplomacy on Crestwood’s behalf.
The Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association has challenged a 2013 approval of an LPG underground storage permit signed by an “acting state geologist.”
The challenge says the permit is invalid because state law says such permits must to be signed by the official New York State Geologist.
The problem is there wasn’t one in 2013. Nor is there one today.
SLPWA made its case in a letter to the DEC administrative law judge who conducted the 2015 issues conference. He is still pondering whether there should be further hearings on issues raised.
Attorneys for Crestwood say pish-posh. It’s simply too late to bring up whether the signature of a stand-in state geologist can be considered valid for the permit to store LPG.
But the administrative law judge disagrees.
In a memo to all parties, he notes Crestwood used the same rationale — that the state has no official state geologist — in successfully convincing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an extension of time on its natural gas storage permit.
More ominously, he also wrote the legality of the 2013 approval does need to be addressed and could present a serious problem.
“ ... lack of authority to approve an application ... would be a basis for denying a permit application,” the judge wrote June 23.
No wonder Crestwood suddenly wants to parlay.
Fitzgerald worked for six newspapers as a writer and editor as well as a correspondent for several news services. His third novel, “The Devil’s Pipeline” is planned for publication early next year. He lives in Valois and Watkins Glen with his wife and can be contacted via email at Michael. Fitzgeraldfltcolumnist@gmail.com.