Cargill Salt Mine’s use of seismic testing for expansion purposes, as well as its decision to expand overall, has received high scrutiny from Lansing residents over the past few weeks. On Aug. 20, 10 to 15 protestors took to the waters of Cayuga Lake via kayaks and a pontoon boat to protest the mine’s use of seismic testing, which began on Aug. 8.
Lansing native Stephanie Redmond was one of the protestors out on the lake that day. Redmond said the size of the mine has drastically changed since she was a child growing up in Lansing.
“I feel like watching the mine progress through my lifetime, there’s been significant change,” Redmond said. “When I was a small child, they started to really to do the blasting explosions. Of course, technology has taken off, and, of course, the expansion of the mine has also exponentially increased.”
“When I was a kid, it wasn’t really that big of a deal. There was a small mine that some of the local people worked at. But now I feel like it’s far too extensive to be safe for our drinking water, to be safe for the lake.”
Redmond said that if something were to go wrong during the testing, the drinking water could be tainted and the lake’s wildlife could be in danger.
“When we found out it was the seismic testing for Cargill, that made me concerned because they were going all the way up to Long Point and then all the way down past the yacht club, which … the mine is already about seven miles of the lake north and south,” she said. “So that would be like 20 miles of the lake. I just really feel like that’s a significant risk to our drinking water. The drinking water is for 100,000 people. If there is some sort of catastrophic collapse in the mine, it would definitely salinize the water to the point that it would be unusable or unhealthy, certainly as drinking water, but also for the aquatic species there.”
Redmond said sturgeon, an endangered species according to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, have been recently introduced, and that she is worried that the seismic testing would negatively alter the behavior patterns of that species, along with the other species living in the lake.
While the majority of the research on seismic testing’s impact on aquatic life has primarily focused on marine life rather than freshwater life, the studies involving marine life, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, say that seismic testing “can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, disturb essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding, mask communications between individual whales and dolphins, and reduce catch rates of commercial fish.”
One study conducted in 2016 by Arthur N. Popper, a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Maryland, among other individuals found that caged freshwater pallid sturgeon and paddlefish that were “exposed to a single pulse from a small seismic airgun array…showed no significant lethal injury (i.e. no mortality or mortal injury) either immediately or within seven days of exposure.”
Another study conducted in 2011 by Tenera Environmental in San Luis Obispa, CA found that “there was no damage to the sensory epithelia of any of three freshwater fish species exposed to seismic air guns. However, there were significant differences between the two seismic studies including air gun size, number and operating pressure. The freshwater environment was shallower and may have attenuated sound intensity more in comparison with the study conducted on the marine snappers.”
Another issue Redmond has with the mine, as well as the Department of Environmental Conservation, is its lack of transparency with the public.
“I feel like the DEC and Cargill have both been not adequately dealing with residents’ concerns,” she said. “There was no notice whatsoever for the seismic testing.”
“This is state property. The lake is state-owned; the land underneath it is state-owned. We’re not going to get any of that data from the seismic testing. It’s not going to be released to the public. Cargill is always very confidential about all of their testing. I just really don’t think that’s an appropriate way for a public common property, let’s say, to be used.”
Redmond said when she and the rest of the individuals traveled to the mine across the lake to protest, their plan was to confront the workers at the mine and have a dialogue about the seismic testing. However, when they arrived at the mine, she said there was no one present.
Cargill issued the following statement on the recent seismic testing:
“As part of Cargill’s standard salt mining operations, every few years we commission a third party expert to conduct a seismic study on portions of Cayuga lake. The study uses sound waves to map the subsurface geology. It’s common practice in mining to verify geology above and around mining operations.”
Mine Manager Shawn Wilczynski said examining the sound waves to map the subsurface geology helps identify any potential environmental impacts to avoid.
While she is perturbed about the use of seismic testing on the lake, Redmond said she mainly wants the mine to stop expanding altogether, regardless of how it goes about it.
“I’d really like them to stop mining under the lake,” she said. “I really feel like this is sort of by-gone technology that they’ve used up … it’s not appropriate for something that’s publicly owned to be treated that way.”