The very existence of two West Texas towns is being threatened by two giant sinkholes that continue to expand, and other holes that are starting to form, as the ground under their very feet dissolves away.
The citizens of Wink and nearby Kermit have become used to the giant sinkholes in their towns; but, now, a new study using radar images of the giant holes has geophysicists concerned for the towns’ future, reports SMU Research.
“This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities. The intrusion of freshwater to underground can dissolve the interbedded salt layers and accelerate the sinkhole collapse.”
The two sinkholes sit about a mile apart from each other, but they’re growing in size as the ground around them collapses. Researchers at the Southern Methodist University think they could pose a big problem in the future.
The area around the two sinkholes is also unstable, meaning new holes are starting to form, making the problem that much worse, geophysicist Zhong Lu has told My San Antonio.
“A collapse could be catastrophic.”
The first sinkhole, discovered in 1980, dubbed Wink Sink #1, is about the size of a football field; the other, found in 2002 and dubbed Wink Sink #2, is at least twice that size and stretches for 900 feet at its widest point.
The two holes are less than a mile apart, but that distance is shrinking every year as the giant sinkholes continue to expand.
The two sinkholes were first caused by the area’s oil and gas extraction industry, but the changing groundwater levels have made the problem worse. The area sits on a deep-seated salt bed and when groundwater enters a nearby underground aquifer it dissolves the salt causing the surface to collapse.
The SMU researchers used radar remote sensing techniques to measure how fast the sinkholes were growing and how deep they were becoming. They found the holes were expanding at about two inches a year, and other holes were starting to form in the area, SMU Professor Zhong Lu told My San Antonio.
“If I lived there, I would be very much concerned.”
For now, the police have fenced off the area and SMU researchers have promised to keep an eye on the sinkholes.
Strangely, citizens in the two Texas towns don’t seem to be worried about the giant sinkholes threatening to swallow their cities, Kermit City Manager Saenz told the NY Daily News.
“At first, people were fighting for the sinkholes, saying “It’s the Kermit crater. No, it’s the Wink sink.’ Then when they found out how bad it was everyone was like ‘ahh.’ They’re a ways off from the highways, if nobody mentions it, then nobody’s interested in it.”
The group’s findings have been reported in the scientific journal Remote Sensing in the article, “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1 SAR Interferometry.”
Opponents of the fracking industry point to sinkholes such as these as proof the oil and gas extraction industry needs to be more heavily monitored. Fracking, a process where chemicals and water are injected under heavy pressure into the earth to crack open fissures of oil and natural gas, has been linked to the formation of giant sinkholes.
Residents of another small, Southern town were forced to evacuate after a giant sinkhole, caused by fracking, swallowed their entire town one night. In a very similar story to Wink, Texas, an oil extraction company allegedly pumped high pressure water into salt domes under the ground which eventually collapsed and swallowed the town. The 350 residents of Bayou Corne, Louisiana, are still waiting on the outcome of their class action lawsuit.
[Photo by AP Photo/Amel Emric]