Louisiana’s massive sinkhole, near Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou, continues to pose a serious problem for officials and responders. Texas Brine Company LLC, the company many officials blame for the collapse of caverns in the Napoleonville Salt Dome leading to the growing sinkhole, disputes any blame, while officials are seeking monetary compensation—and gases continue to leak out.
Emergency managers issued an evacuation order for 150 homes in the Bayou Corne area on Aug. 3 due to the sinkhole’s growing activity. The evacuation is still in effect.
The massive sinkhole now has an estimated size of between 6.2 and 7 acres, stretching about 1 by 3 miles, and it is approximately 111 feet deep.
“The outer edge of the salt dome, best we can tell, is gone,” said Dr. Gary Hecox, geologist with Shaw Environmental, according to the Examiner. Hecox was contracted by the state of Louisiana.
The sinkhole is believed to be caused by a failed cavern wall in the western-edge caverns under the Napoleonville Salt Dome owned by Texas Brine. The collapse triggered a chain-reaction of collapses, which continued to grow throughout much of autumn.
“The pressure of the brine got so much, essentially you had a fracking-out of the brine going all the way up to the surface,” explained Hecox. “That’s why you have a collapse and fracturing all the way to the surface.”
The collapse has triggered additional effects, including the release of underground natural gas, crude oil, and methane. Texas Brine is currently flaring off the escaped methane gas via relief wells, while officials are calling for more methane testing.
“[The collapse] went right on the side of the salt dome, because that’s where the rocks in the formation are the weakest,” Hecox continued. “The rocks coming down were increasing the pressure in the brine until the frack-out.”
“The outer edge of the salt dome, best we can tell, is gone.”
—Dr. Gary Hecox, geologist, Shaw Environmental
Texas Brine contends that the collapse of their cave was due to additional seismic activity in the area, and that the loss of integrity was somewhere other than in their leased caverns.
The caverns where the collapse happened were being used by gas and oil companies for storage.
“We feel we have been pretty accurate in the past, and in the past, we have concurred with the parish’s assessment. We just disagree in this particular case,” Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch said when discussing the controversial size of the sinkhole, according to the Examiner.
The company has been the longtime operator of the sealed and abandoned Oxy Geismar Well No. 3 located on the collapse site.
In early November, Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell issued a letter to Texas Brine and cavern owner Occidental Chemical Corporation, demanding payment for emergency responses and state involvement in the amount of $3.47 million. Caldwell demanded immediate payment within 30 days or legal action will be taken.
Response costs totaling $3,474,593 had been charged from June 19 through Nov. 8, according to Caldwell.
Official response costs continue to increase, costing the state more dollars as a “mini-village” of state and parish officials set up a command post south of Louisiana Highway 70, where agencies continue to test air and water quality and where gases continue to escape from the sinkhole.
“As evidenced above, the State of Louisiana has incurred substantial costs in response to the Bayou Corne incident and in the continued investigation of the repercussions of the sink hole caused by the collapse of the Oxy Geismar No. 3 Well cavern owned operated by Texas Brine and Occidental,” Caldwell said in his letter, according to The Advocate.
As officials continue to work on the problematic sinkhole, evacuees continue to remain out of their homes. Dangers of the sinkhole include the possibility of gas explosion from the trapped and leaking gases, as well as the potential for poisoning from the gases.
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