WATKINS GLEN, NY (WENY) -- It's been almost ten years since a project started to store liquid petroleum gas in underground salt caverns in Schuyler County. All week long, we're going to be exploring different aspects of L-PG storage, and the plans for Crestwood's Watkins Glen facility. In part one, we're looking at the project, and how it's changed in response to community feedback.
WENY's Renata Stiehl traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to talk directly to Crestwood Executives about the project - in an exclusive interview with WENY, the company outlines the proposal, reacts to the community's response, and tells us why the project's now almost a decade in the works.
"Most people didn't know that there's a facility across the street that's existed for decades, or that there's propane storage stored in this location for decades," explains Crestwood Chief Marketing Officer Bill Gautreax. He says the location on Seneca Lake is ideal for storing LPG for several reasons. Underground salt caverns are commonly used in areas across the country for hydrocarbon storage.
"For one thing, the strength. So literally, the salt caverns, which are in this case a half mile deep, so way down, they're often compared to structural steel, in terms of their structural strength capability," Gautreax says.
Watkins Glen is already the site of an existing propane pipeline, originating out of Texas and making its way into the Northeast. The TEPPCO Pipeline is operated by Enterprise Products, which operates an LPG storage facility just across Route 14 from Crestwood's property. And it's this location, situated near other northeastern states that are not suitable for propane storage, but in need of propane for home heating.
"So it's a combination of those things. Where the formations are, where the pipeline is, and where the market-based need is," explains Gautreaux.
The company says the caverns are subject to strict testing to ensure they are suitable for storage, under constant real-time monitoring and mandated regular resting.
According to Gautreaux, "Very rigorous testing, it's all sonar related, so it's a well integrity test that's both sonar and pressure related. These caverns, by their nature, as they sit here today, they're filled with brine and under pressure. So they're working every day virtue of that, and that can be easily verified and tested."
If approved, Crestwood's LPG storage cavern would hold up to 1.5 million barrels of propane. The company already maintains LPG storage, along with natural gas and butane in nearby Savona, in Steuben County. It's because of this existing operation, along with community feedback, that Crestwood modified its Watkins Glen plans in 2016. Initial plans to store butane, build a rail car siding, along with trucks hauling the gases in and out of the facility were removed from the application.
"Because the pipeline is located there, and because we have this additional facility in Savona, we felt that we could work the logistics of that, really, there wouldn't need to be much or any rail or truck, because that seemed to be something the community was concerned about," says Gautreaux.
Opponents of the LPG storage plan say it's is too close to Seneca Lake, could threaten the area's booming wine and tourism region, and harm a natural resource - Seneca Lake. They feel the risk is too great, and often point to incidents at other gas storage facilities in other parts of the country as reason not to store LPG in Watkins Glen.
Crestwood Vice President Brad Bacon says they hear those concerns.
"You wouldn't hear us say let's downplay the risk. Because that risk is there, even though there's differences in the facilities [between Crestwood's storage facilities and others across the country], and type of products being stored and everything else. But if you want to focus on the risk, then we'd say that's a good thing. We worried about the risk to and want to make sure we do everything we can to mitigate it," explains Bacon.
Crestwood says when opposition groups started to form and grow more vocal, it caught them off guard.
"Here, we went into the community, because were kind of welcome with open arms, in the idea of growing jobs, and spending to expand the tax base and everything else. U.S. Salt had a good relationship with the community, there is a local storage facility 30 miles away, I think we were struggling with how to understand with how to respond to those concerns because they weren't always factual or you didn't understand where they were coming from, it's kind of hard to craft a response," explains Bacon.
Opponents voiced their concerns about the potential risks of storing gases underground, so close to a source of water. Not to mention a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, and families making their living off nearby farms and vineyards. Crestwood says public safety is a top company priority.
"So we don't just have this safety criteria solely to be good neighbors, but we also have it because it makes economic sense, and so I would tell you, we're big supporters of Seneca lake, our U.S. Salt business, that plant has been there for over 100 years, our employees live in that community, everybody covets what's going on there with tourism, and vineyards and the lake itself, and we're actually working to make those things better," said Gautreaux.
Despite being eight-plus years removed from the additional application, modifications to the proposal and over a hundred million dollars spent, Brad Bacon says Crestwood wants to be a good community neighbor. The company says its made investments into local groups and organizations, improved its US Salt facility, and works directly with local emergency responders so they're prepared in the event of any type of incident.
"W are a business owner, just like every business owner that lives there. We have 150 plus employees who live here, are part of the community. Safety is front and center in our mind, we are an energy company at the end of the day," Bacon said.