Bayou Corne Sinkhole: An Update on the Louisiana Enviornmental Disaster

Submitted by Charlton Stanley, Guest Blogger

LA Dept of Natural ResourcesI wrote about the Bayou Corne sinkhole in Assumption Parish, Louisiana last September.  This update is to fill our readers in on the latest developments in this ongoing environmental—and human—disaster. Residents have moved away from the area since this monster was discovered on August 3, 2012. At that time it was relatively small, but the 350 people living closest to it were evacuated. At that time, no one knew how big it would grow, but based on the Lake Peigneur experience, the Assumption Parish authorities were taking no chances. From what I am told, the local people did not have to be told twice to leave. They left, because they knew what happened at Lake Peigneur in 1980. Their homes near the sinkhole stand vacant. Those families are environmental refugees. So far, 45 of the 65 families who live there have agreed to sell their properties to Texas Brine.

About five hours after its discovery in 2012, the hole was about 300 feet in diameter. It now covers approximately 26 acres. Geologists with Texas Brine point out it is still growing, and is probably going to double in size.

Last December, new information was published in the journal Geology. Cathleen Jones, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and her colleague Ronald Blom did aerial surveys of the Bayou Corne area as soon as they could after they heard about it in April 1013. Jones commented that she feared little would show on the radar because all the vegetation and water-soaked swampy ground was likely to confound precise radar measurements. She was wrong, “The signal was so big it overwhelmed all that noise [from the soil moisture]. When I looked at the data, I thought, ‘Wow, this is an enormous signature.’ I couldn’t believe it.” She added, “The whole area was moving toward the sinkhole.”

Jones and Blom now report the earth’s crust moved horizontally about ten inches between June 23, 2011 and July 2, 2012 when they did their flyover measurements. There was no surface movement before 2011.

About a month ago, one of the berms that surround the lake began sinking. It is supposed to be about six feet above water level. It sank 4.5 feet. More trees sank into the hole. Note in the video below they slide sideways a good distance before sinking out of sight. Despite the obvious danger, work crews are continuing to work on the berms, doing what they can to slow the growth of the hole.  This video was made last Sunday, January 5.

Now for the legal twist to the story. Texas Brine officials have complained that a second insurer has refused to pay. They have a policy with Arch Specialty Insurance Company, but Arch is disputing the claim.  Last October 22, Liberty Insurance Underwriters Inc. filed a lawsuit against Texas Brine in U.S. District Court in Houston. The lawsuit asks the Court to declare the insurer does not have to pay on its $50 million policy. Liberty alleges Texas Brine had years of warning about a potential salt dome collapse. Obviously, Texas Brine disputes those allegations.

La Dept of InsuranceTexas Brine attorney Mark D. Mese wrote a complaint letter to the Louisiana Department of Insurance on December 23. Mese states that Arch Specialty Insurance Co. never reimbursed Texas Brine for any part of its $55 million in costs stemming from the state-mandated response to the ever-growing 26-acre sinkhole.

Mr. Mese wrote, “Arch’s conduct violates both the letter and the spirit of Louisiana law governing fair claims handling by insurers.” The complaint adds that Arch ignored requests for a resolution, even reneging on an agreement to meet at Arch company offices in New Jersey on December 12.

There is still unidentified geological activity in the area. A little before 2 p.m. Wednesday, reports began coming in about tremors with loud thunder noises 45 miles from the Bayou Corne sinkhole, and about 140 miles northwest of BP’s Macondo Prospect oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. There are vast amounts of methane gas in the caverns as well as hundreds of pipelines carrying potentially explosive and hazardous chemicals criss-crossing the area.

This is not over yet. The best we can hope for is that no one dies.

Sources:

The Baton Rouge Advocate

Assumption Parish

New York Daily News

….and a lot more.

27 thoughts on “Bayou Corne Sinkhole: An Update on the Louisiana Enviornmental Disaster

  1. An amazing story Chuck. I could not believe what I saw in that video! That is not a hole. I think the word abyss is more appropriate.

  2. Jeezus!

    What, Oklahoma is going to be Ocean front property just as the maps I’ve seen predict, only sooner?

    Well, at least we can always move to that other planet after the corporations/govt get done destroying this one. lol

  3. Darren,
    This particular sinkhole is unique. There has never been an accident like this. The salt deposit under Assumption Parish is close to the size of Mt. Everest. It is also only a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Mississippi River on the other, so there is an unlimited supply of ground water. Also, no one knows where all the fault lines are, and how water is getting in and out of the hole. At one time, tidal action was observed, but I have not seen recent mention of that. If it was true tidal action, it means the sinkhole connects with the Gulf underground. That cannot be a good sign. Even Texas Brine geologists, who probably tend to be more optimistic in their estimations than others, say the sinkhole will grow to twice the size it is now, probably cover fifty to sixty acres. The underground gas and piplelines in the area are a wild card. One expert said there is so much explosive material underground there, and under such high pressure, that if it all went off at once, the explosion could be as large as a hydrogen bomb.

    That’s a cheery thought, especially if you live on top of it, and explosive gases continue to bubble up out of the ground. literally.

    It is also no accident that a hundred mile long corridor of real estate in south Louisiana has been dubbed “cancer alley.”

  4. I have yet to see a wind farm, solar array or geothermal plant operation lay waste to land, sea or air like we see from the coal, oil and nuclear industry every day.

  5. Otteray Scribe,
    What do you get when you nick the edge of a salt dome that is miles wide while drilling in the bayou?

    … Besides melted salt and a collapsing dome?

    We’re finding out now but this time it is much, much larger than the other salt mine accident Louisiana had there a while back in 1980…

  6. Well I know some people who live in Louisiana and they tell me that the people who live in that Parish assume too much and do not admit that the hole is an act of God and not a state of brine. Further, the insurance company is taking the position that an act of God is exempted from their coverage and that the parties need to put this before a Catholic panel and not a court of law. I hope that this answers some of your questions.

  7. Oh, and one insurance company says that this is a cornhole and not a sinkhole and that never the Twain shall meet once you are south of the juncture of the Ohio and the Mississippi.

  8. I assume that people can not quit cornholing in that Parish and that the Earth has moved under their feet whenever that insurance company is not around.
    –Carol King

  9. It seems insurance company’s will take your money but not pay a claim…. Now when it happens to the big guys people write story’s…..

  10. I went to check out what these boys had for us on the subject & I see they’ve retired/moved forward.

    There’s still info out there on OS subject. I find it interesting Louisiana is getting whacked on one side from BP/GOM, in the middle from itself & from Oklahoma fracking, etc….(Earth quakes & the destruction of fresh water/lakes/Rivers/Aquifers. )

    http://www.theoildrum.com/

  11. When you take stuff out of the ground, something is going to fill the gap. In a 1994 salt mine collapse (the shale ceiling gave way), the mine was filled by water from the aquifer. I’m sure there are others.

    Frac’ing seems to be causing earth quakes in addition to poisoning the aquifer. The nuclear power plants are raising the temperatures of the water bodies they use for cooling, some even manage to make the water radioactive. We are slowly but surely destroying the one thing we absolutely must have to survive: water.

  12. but, but, but, we don’t need regulation, if something goes wrong we just sue the company responsible.

    something tells me this sinkhole is going to be much larger than any one company’s pockets.

    or if the company’s pockets are that big they can buy enough justice (or legislation) to make sure they don’t get blamed.

  13. And yet we allow corporations to run our country, write our laws, own our courts and if TPP passes virtually run the world. What a sad commentary on a country that was supposed to be ” a government of the people, by the people, for the people” .

  14. Justice Holmes writes:
    [And yet we allow corporations to run our country, write our laws, own our courts and if TPP passes virtually run the world. What a sad commentary on a country that was supposed to be ” a government of the people, by the people, for the people” ]

    Well said!.

  15. Of the 45 residences bought out by Texas Brine, bet NONE were for full value. AND they can not sue for further damages, health issues, etc I bet.

  16. Dumb question, please forgive me, I am not a geologist. Can geologists find out how big this could possibly get? Do they have the funding and/or the means? I’m asking directly, not rhetorically. I don’t know the answer.

  17. judestringfellow,

    Not a dumb question at all. In fact it is the question that most needs an answer.

    The truthful answer is, ‘no one knows.’ The best estimates so far is that the hole will continue to enlarge to about twice its current size, which would make it cover about 50-60 acres. The salt deposit under Assumption Parish is roughly the size of Mt. Everest. Since some tidal action has been observed on the water surface, and the Mississippi river is just a few miles away, there is potential for fresh water to move through the hole. That means it won’t become supersaturated. Salt can continue to be eroded from the salt dome. Add to that geologic instability, the fact the whole area is slowly subsiding toward the Gulf, and you have a grim long term outlook.

    There was a public briefing in Assumption Parish on January 14. The video was rather long, so it is broken into six parts. You can see that at this link.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/assumptionla/videos

  18. Amazing. Thank you. I’m just surprised that with Anderson Cooper coming down there all the time for the 9th Parish, that he hasn’t covered this disaster. I wonder if we could convince him.

  19. Interesting one of the insurance companies claim Texas Brine knew of potential hazards for years so they don’t want to pay?!? GUESS WHAT? That insurance company would have written the risk with foreknowledge as well. Both insurance companies should pay after all they accepted the contract of insurance and receipt of payment of premium charged. The families need reimbursement for their loss of homes and Texas Brine needs the company to perform in its behalf as the purchase of insurance was paid to do.

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