Sandra Steingraber, Colleen Boland Released After Serving Sentences for Blockading Controversial Gas Storage Facility


Author and biologist Sandra Steingraber was released from a New York jail shortly after midnight on Wednesday after serving 15 days for blockading the gates to a natural-gas storage facility. Steingraber, an Ithaca College professor, and another protester Colleen Boland, were let go after serving the entire sentence. A third protester, 87-year-old Roland Micklem, received the same sentence but was released after one night in jail. He was recently admitted to an upstate Veteran’s Administration hospital for unspecified ailments. The trio was among some 200 people who have been blockading the gates of the proposed gas storage facility in Reading, NY.

An enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers greeted Steingraber and Boland as they were released from jail in the early hours of the day. The sentenced protesters were part of the We Are Seneca Lake group, which has been fighting the proposed expansion of Crestwood Midstream's facility for storage of natural gas, near the banks of Seneca Lake. Ten people were originally arrested in late October after blocking a tractor-trailer from driving through the gates of the facility. 

At their sentencing on November 19, Reading Town Court Justice Raymond Barry was visibly moved as he passed down the criminal trespass sentences. All three were then remanded to the Schuyler County Jail. The women were processed and transported to the Chemung County Jail and processed again. Schuyler County has no facility for female inmates.

On her release, Steingraber spoke about the Chemung County Jail and the other women serving sentences at the facility, before mentioning her own time at the jail.

“Half the women in my cellblock are here for probation violation,” she said. “One thing they all agree on: It’s almost impossible to be a single mother in search of housing and a job, both of which require mobility, and comply with probation rules, which restrict mobility.”

Steingraber also mentioned the importance of civil disobedience, even if the result is jail time. “I have come to believe that a successful civil disobedience campaign...depends on the willingness of at least some of us to gladly accept jail time over other kinds of sentences, such as paying fines,” she said.

Boland said her military background helped her immeasurably with her stay in jail. She said it's time for those who advocate for the environment to take the next step. "As I sat in my locked cell, day after day, I realized I’m growing less patient towards those who are quick to thank and painfully slow to step up," she said. "We are in a crisis here—along Seneca, and in Horseheads, and Lowman, and Painted Post, and in other communities throughout the region."

In October, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorized construction for a new gas storage facility, even after the local community voiced its concerns. We Are Seneca Lake, an organization of concerned residents, decided that nonviolent civil disobedience was its only option at that point.

“The campaign against dangerous gas storage in abandoned salt caverns near our beloved lake will continue with political pressure on our elected officials—who should be protecting our drinking water, our health and our wine, and tourism-based economy—and nonviolent acts of civil disobedience,” said Steingraber in October.

We Are Seneca Lake is not the only group protesting the gas storage facility. In October, the legislatures of Tompkins County, and the Yates County approved resolutions opposing gas storage near the lakeshore. The counties joined similar actions by the Board of Supervisors of both Ontario and Seneca counties, the Geneva City Council, and the Watkins Glen Village Board.

The gas-storage facility is to be constructed inside an underground salt cavern just outside Watkins Glen.

Seneca Lake is the largest of the glacial Finger Lakes in New York and is famous for its freshwater fishing. The area around the lake is home to more than 50 wineries. It also serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people.

Crestwood Midstream, which recently merged with Inergy LP, is a Texas-based diversified energy corporation with a large stake in the U.S. shale gas and oil boom. Last year, the company acquired the 600-acre property that contains the salt caverns to store gas from its fracking operations.

The property on Seneca Lake would become Crestwood’s sixth gas-storage facility. The company plans to store millions of barrels of liquid petroleum gases in the salt caverns and to make the area a “gas storage and transportation hub” for the entire Northeast. Critics call the amount of gas Crestwood intends to store “unprecedented” and are concerned about the geological instabilities in the region and possible salinization of the lake.

We Are Seneca Lake has accused Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Department of Environmental Conservation of deleting references to the risks of underground gas storage from a recent report on methane contamination that the State of New York commissioned from the U.S. Geological Survey. The group, along with other regional environmental organizations, maintains that both the DEC and FERC complied with Crestwood’s request to hold as proprietary business information fundamental geological knowledge about these caverns, putting key data—even basic maps—off limits to the public and to independent scientists.

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