Submitted by Charlton Stanley, Guest Blogger
I 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.
Texas 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.
….and a lot more.