Energy chair pushes Cuomo on Finger Lakes propane storage

George D. Maziarz

By Scott Waldman 3:13 p.m. | Jul. 1, 2014 - Capital NY


ALBANY—The chair of the State Senate's energy committee is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make a decision on propane storage facility in the Finger Lakes after five years of delay.

Senator George Maziarz of Niagara sent a letter to Cuomo and to state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joe Martens urging them to make a final decision on the facility, which would store propane in salt caverns. Maziarz said the D.E.C. staff assigned to the project completed a review a year ago and recommended approval. The D.E.C.'s central office is now needlessly sitting on the issuing of the final underground storage permit, he contends.

“It has been nearly five years since the project's sponsor submitted its application,” Maziarz wrote. “The length of this delay cannot be justified. Unfortunately, consumers, businesses and local taxing jurisdictions are paying the price for the Department's inaction.”

severe propane shortage in the Northeast caused prices to spike more than 50 percent and cost more than $100 million. The Finger Lakes storage facility would create a major new hub for propane storage in the Northeast. Maziarz said those most affected by the dramatic spikes were largely rural residents and businesses who could least afford it.

The Schuyler County legislature, where the facility is located, recently passed a resolution supporting the facility. It would add more than $20 million to the local tax base, which would fund much-needed infrastructure projects, according to the legislature's resolution.

A similar facility located next door was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The underground storage facility is located near Seneca Lake and has housed gas 2,000 feet underground for about 40 years. In May, federal regulators granted approval to Houston-based Crestwood Midstream Partners to expand the project from 1.5 billion cubic feet to 2 billion cubic feet, enough to heat 20,000 homes.

In both cases, the caverns are filled with salty water that must be pumped out in order to pump gas in. That water must then be stored in brine pools near the lake, which environmentalists are concerned could leak and cause pollution.

Maziarz contends that federal regulators used that approval to reject claims made by opponents that the propane storage facility would case safety and environmental risks. Other salt formations in the region have used facilities that have operated safely for decades.

The state's inaction does not square with Cuomo's efforts to draw more businesses to the economically depressed areas of upstate, Maziarz wrote.

“The truth is, we cannot say that New York is truly 'Open for Business' when a company offers to construct a project to the most rigorous design and environmental standards possible (to Staff's satisfaction, apparently), but the State fails to take a position on the project for almost five years,” he wrote.

Maziarz has asked the state to set a deadline for the review and to request any remaining information that may be needed.