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Does Sudden Sinkhole Portend a Nuclear-sized Explosion?

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Sinkhole, Aug 6. LEAN via SouthWings flight
Sinkhole, Aug 6. LEAN via SouthWings flight
(Image by Louisiana Environmental Action Network)
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Napoleonville, LA
For many weeks, Corne and Grand Bayou residents warily noticed strange bubblings from the watery depths, and they reported smelling burnt diesel fuel and sulfur. Then overnight, a sinkhole the size of three football fields appeared, swallowing scores of 100-foot tall cypress trees.
The beginning of a Grade B monster flick? No: real life in Assumption Parish, Louisiana.

Location of sinkhole, before and after it appeared.
Location of sinkhole, before and after it appeared.
(Image by Louisiana Environmental Action Network)
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The 372-foot diameter, 422-foot deep sinkhole is just 1200 feet from Highway 70. Quantities of diesel and oil appeared on the surface of the slurry, creating a stink. The mysterious bubbles in the bayou continue.

Bubbling Bayou
Bubbling Bayou
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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Bubbles in the bayou
Bubbles in the bayou
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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A butane-filled well is located just 1500 feet from the sinkhole.  A breach could trigger an explosion. Scientists in an Examiner investigation, estimate that an explosion like this could be in the range of one-and-a-half B83 thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs.

Corne Bayou Map: Sinkhole and surrounding area
Corne Bayou Map: Sinkhole and surrounding area
(Image by Louisiana Environmental Action Network)
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Legend: Sinkhole at Corne Bayou
Legend: Sinkhole at Corne Bayou
(Image by Louisiana Environmental Action Network)
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The Department of Natural Resources issued a Declaration of Emergency on Aug 6. Daily briefings were held, 150 families were evacuated. Acadian Ambulance Services have been staged at the site for emergency purposes.

Daily town meetings to address the problems
Daily town meetings to address the problems
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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During cleanup operations on the morning of Aug. 16, an additional 50' feet of property on the southwest side of the site suddenly fell into the sinkhole. Two cleanup workers in a boat, which was tied to a tree in that area, were rescued via airboat. Shortly thereafter, their boat sunk into the sinkhole, pulled down by the descent of the tree it was tied to.

All workers have been accounted for and no injuries have been reported. However, clean up operations at the site have been suspended.

This is the video of the flyover on Aug 16, after the additional 50' of property fell into the sinkhole. (24 seconds)


I interviewed Wilma Subra, a scientist and Pres. of the Subra Company, and past Vice-Chair of the Environmental Protection Agency National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT). Her company provides technical assistance to citizens concerned with environmental issues, by combining technical research and evaluation.

Bubbles in the bayou
Bubbles in the bayou
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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Ms. Subra explained that the Napoleonville Salt Dome area, in which the sinkhole is located, is about 3 miles long and a mile wide. A salt dome is a naturally occurring formation of hard mineral.

Some portions of a salt dome are used for solution mining in which a well is excavated, leading to a cavern below.  Then, water is pumped in, and the resulting salt water is pumped out, creating brine, a salable product used in various manufacturing processes.

Some caverns may be used for storing natural gas or butane.

Subra said that on Aug. 3, something caved in somewhere, creating the sinkhole. It is not possible to determine exactly what happened until investigation by drilling.

In order to do that, Subra explained that a rig available for rent had to be located, and then shipped to the site in pieces. A rig is currently being assembled 950 feet from the sinkhole. It will be used to dig an exploratory well into the cavern in order to assess its condition. Digging this well is expected to take 40 days.

Exploratory rig being assembled approx 950’ from the sinkhole, Aug 16
Exploratory rig being assembled approx 950’ from the sinkhole, Aug 16
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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It has been determined that Oxy Geismar Well No. 3 (serial number: 180708) is the cause of the sink hole. The well was first permitted in April 15, 1982 for the mining of salt water brine from the Napoleonville Salt Dome. In 1995 Texas Brine received permission from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to pump soil contaminated with Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) into the well.

In early September 2010, Texas Brine began reworking the cavern well, milling a section of salt higher than the existing cavern roof, at 3,400 feet deep, to see if the upper strata could be mined. A DNR permit for that work was issued in May 2010. In 2011 the well failed a pressure test showing that the integrity of the well had been lost. Texas Brine Company sent a letter to Louisiana Department of Natural Resources reporting the failed test and expressing concern over the possibility that "a breach out of the salt dome appears possible."

On June 6, 2011, the well bore above the cavern was plugged with cement.

Bubbling and odors were reported in the nearby bayous, and the sinkhole appeared on Aug. 3.

(ADDITIONAL INFO, ADDED ON FRIDAY MORNING:
At 10:40 EDT on Aug 17, I got another email from Wilma Subra:
"An additional 20 feet on the east side of the sink hole were noted sloughed off this morning.")


Parish officials, DEQ, LDWF agents depart to take air samples @ sinkhole site.
Parish officials, DEQ, LDWF agents depart to take air samples @ sinkhole site.
(Image by Assumption Parish Police Jury, used with permission)
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A Texas Brine Co. LLC contractor will begin distributing weekly housing assistance checks on Friday, Aug. 17, to evacuees.

Alligators reside in the bayou, and are reportedly still there. Hopefully, someone is paying close attention to their behavior, and will take notice if they all suddenly leave.
American Alligator
American Alligator
(Image by wiki. Public domain photo via NASA., Author: =)
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RESOURCES:
See also related OpEdNews quicklink: Sinkhole: H-Bomb explosion Equivalent in SE Louisiana Possible at  click here

Pdf of Aug 6th map click here

Map of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole Incident  (continually updated) Accessed Aug 16 2012
click here

Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) 
http://leanweb.org
The purpose of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) is to foster cooperation and communication between individual citizens and corporate and government organizations in an effort to assess and mend the environmental problems in Louisiana. LEAN's goal is the creation and maintenance of a cleaner and healthier environment for all of the inhabitants of this state.


Assumption Parish Police Jury website updates (Accessed Aug 16 2012) at:
http://assumptionla.wordpress.com
http://assumptionla.com/

Flickr site with pictures relevant to the situation in Bayou Corne have been posted and will be updated daily. http://www.flickr.com/photos/assumptionoep/sets/  (Accessed Aug 16 2012)

 

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)
 

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