Cornell Employee Jailed After Environmental Protest

Three anti-fracking activists, including a Cornell employee, protested against a company’s plans to build gas storage facilities in the Finger Lakes last month...

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By Kritika Oberoi via the Cornell Daily Sun, 4/19/13

Three anti-fracking activists — including a Cornell employee — who protested against a company’s plans to build gas storage facilities in the Finger Lakes last month received a 15-day jail sentence Wednesday. Melissa Chipman, Michael Dineen, a research support specialist at Cornell, and Sandra Steingraber were part of a group called the Seneca Lake 12, which protested the plans of Inergy, a propane supplier, to create natural gas storage facilities in underground salt caverns under and around Seneca Lake.

The protesters blockaded Inergy’s gas compressor station site at the southwest end of Seneca Lake on March 18, keeping the company’s trucks out for an hour before being arrested for refusing to disband, according to Reed Steberger ’13.

Seneca Lake 12 includes three others affiliated with Cornell: Dennis Fox ’15, co-president of Kyoto NOW!, K.C. Alvey ’12 and Mahats Miller ’13, according to Steberger.

Fox and Alvey, who were fined $375 for trespassing along with the rest of the Seneca Lake 12, paid off the fines on March 20 using funds raised by the people of Reading and Watkins Glen, two towns near Seneca Lake, according to Fox.

Steberger said the Seneca Lake 12 protested Inergy’s plans to build the storage facilities because the abandoned salt caverns the company was eyeing have a high likelihood of exploding and damaging the community around them if used.

Steberger also said he sees the creation of he storage facilities as a move to facilitate fracking ahead of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) releasing a decision on whether or not the state will remove a ban on fracking.

“While Governor [Andrew] Cuomo debates allowing horizontal drilling in New York State, the fracking industry has been slipping in the back door by building infrastructure and trying to lock in our dependence on fossil fuels,” Steberger said.

Fox echoed Steberger’s sentiments.

“While New York State citizens are mobilizing to oppose hydro-fracking in the state, these same companies are entering into the communities with little to no regard for the people of these communities," Fox said.

Although the Seneca Lake 12 among others expressed environmental concerns with fracking, others in New York State believe the practice is a valuable way to revitalize a struggling upstate economy.

Fox said he believed the cause was worth risking arrest, citing community support.

“What really sold the involvement for me, was the support from the community that we were organizing with. ... They were overwhelmingly positive in their support for the people blockading the facility,” he said.

According to a website maintained by Green Umbrella — an environmental group affiliated with the protest — five of the Seneca Lake 12 have already paid their fines in court, with many of them using money donated by inhabitants of towns nearby to pay the fines. The final three protesters will appear in the Reading Town Court on May 1, according to the website.

Both Steberger and Fox characterized the fight against Inergy’s creation of the storage facility as a fight for the future of the environment.

“As students and young people, we recognize that the fight communities are facing on the frontlines is the same fight to protect our future,” Steberger said.

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