Louisiana officials are trying to discover why a massive sinkhole opened in southern Louisiana’s Bayou Corne, swallowing 100-foot tall cypress trees and prompting evacuations in the process.
Officials believe that the sinkhole may have been caused by a salt cavern collapsing and the state’s Department of Natural Resources has ordered the Texas Brine Company, the company that mines the cavern, to drill a well and see if it is the cause of the dark gray water-filled hole nearby, reports CNN.
Measurements at the site on Monday showed that the sinkhole is 324 feet wide and between 50 feet and 422 feet deep in spots, according to John Boudreaux, director of the Office of Homeland Security in Assumption Parish, which is about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge. Since then it has grown about 10 to 20 feet more.
Residents began noticing bubbles in the waters of Bayou Corne in mid-May and contacted authorities about the problem. The bubbles grew in frequency until the bayou appeared to be boiling in some spots. Finally, the sinkhole appeared on August 3.
Now, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack is worried that the sinkhole could breach a nearby well that contains 1.5 million barrels of liquid butane. Should the well be breached, the highly volatile liquid would turn into a highly flammable vapor.
Texas Brine’s salt cavern, which is part of the Napoleonville salt dome, is a massive ancient structure that the company mines for use with mining petroleum, salt, and sulphur, according to Fox-8.
Dennis Landry, a local resident who owns the Cajun Cabins of Bayou Corne, stated that, “Our beautiful little paradise is in jeopardy,” with the discovery of the Louisiana sinkhole. Landry, along with other residents, is worried that the sinkhole could enlarge, and also believes that a cavern collapse is to blame.
Local residents, as well as the sheriff, have said that the DNR “knew for months” that the cavern mined by Texas Brine had integrity problems but that they didn’t tell authorities or do anything about it. Landry stated:
“DNR failed to report to anybody that this cavern could be the source of the bubbles. I’m very upset about it. A lot of local residents are upset about it. I feel like I’ve been betrayed by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.”
Many landowners near the sinkhole filed a lawsuit against the DNR and Texas Brine this week, claiming that their drinking water is now contaminated by a problem that both the department and the company reportedly knew about. One resident stated:
“Somebody at DNR should have woke up and realized, hey, remember this salt dome, this salt cavern that had a problem, maybe we should be looking at that. That’s a little bit upsetting.”
Lawyer John Carmouche, a partner with Talbot, Carmouche, and Marcello in Baton Rouge who is representing the landowners, stated that:
“They’re trying to make this something to deal with one well. It’s not just one well, it’s the whole system of Grand Bayou. They just ignored it.”
Landry flew over the Louisiana sinkhole this week and stated that he could see diesel and other chemicals floating on top of the sludge inside. Some of the massive cyprus trees that fell in are floating on top of the hole because of the salty water’s bouyancy.