DEC issues permit for Finger Lakes gas storage project
ALBANY—The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday issued a draft permit for propane and butane storage in the Finger Lakes region, a proposal that has languished for five years.
Though more state approvals are needed before construction can begin, the permit, though only a draft and still subject to change, is the first movement on the proposed facility in years. Houston-based Crestwood Midstream wants to store 88 million gallons of propane and butane in former salt mines along Seneca Lake near Watkins Glen. Environmentalists, local business owners and elected officials oppose the project because they are worried about pollution to the lake.
The draft permit is a signal the state is finally willing to move on the project, Bill Gautreaux, president of Crestwood's liquids and crude business unit, said Monday.
“I tend to view that as progress. The fact you issue a draft permit means you have gone through the permitting process,” he said. “We haven't had that at this point.”
But state officials cautioned the draft permit does not mean the project is moving forward.
“The release of these draft permit conditions in no way indicates that the project will ultimately be approved,” D.E.C. spokesman Tom Mailey said in a statement. “The draft permit conditions contain requirements and obligations that D.E.C. staff believes would be appropriate and necessary to be imposed upon the applicant in the potential event that, after the hearing process, a permit is issued.”
Similar projects in other states typically take about a year to get all of the needed state approvals, Crestwood vice president Brad Bacon said.
In New York, however, politics comes into play, he said, noting that critics have successfully linked the propane storage facility with fracking, even though it's a different issue, and have managed to delay the project. He said the Cuomo administration has still not offered any assurances the permit will be the last stage of the project before possible approval.
“You have to go through the process, and politics are part of the process here,” he said.
There are three other propane storage facilities in upstate New York, two of which are in former salt mine caverns, Gautreaux said. The Crestwood project, which would be the largest, is needed because of propane storage issues during the winter months, Crestwood officials argue.
Last winter saw price increases of more than 50 percent for some customers as propane supplies tightened during the polar vortex. Without enough storage, the region relies on propane deliveries by rail, truck and even by ship to east coast cities, Gautreaux said.
This fall, D.E.C. commissioner Joe Martens said the state would decide on the project by the end of the year. He then said it needed more time and ordered an “issues conference” to explore it further. That conference is scheduled for February. If the state approves the project, it could face further delays if community or environmental groups appeal the decision in court.