Sinkhole Caused by Chemical Company Swallowing Town
A sinkhole in Louisiana caused by a chemical mining operation that has forced the evacuation of nearly an entire town is growing. The toxic sinkhole now covers more than 24 acres.
Last August the 350 residents of the Louisiana town of Bayou Corne were evacuated. According to the new lawsuit filed by the state of Louisiana against the Occidental chemical Corporation and its subsidiary – a petrochemical mining enterprise called Texas Brine – the 750-feet deep sinkhole has reached toxic proportions.
Authorities believe the sinkhole was produced by a drilling process called injection mining. This is when wells are injected with pressurized water and/or chemicals to open them up. The process is now used in natural gas operations, oil drilling, and in the mining of petrochemicals – as is the case in the Bayou Corne, Louisiana sinkhole.
Salt caverns like the one in Bayou Corne have increasingly been used not only for mining but also as storage facilities. Oil and natural gas companies have been using salt caverns for years to store oil and gas. Some are even used to store used radioactive materials. Salt caverns account for 7% of all natural gas storage within the United States, and practically every major natural gas accident has occurred in these salt caverns.
For example, in 2003, Dow Chemicals’ Napolianville Dome salt cavern gushed methane, forcing Grand Bayou, Texas residents to evacuate. In 2001, a salt cavern leak in Kansas killed two people in spewing gas and water geysers. The sinkhole began from the Oxy Geismar 3 cavern – a large underground salt deposit.
Geological experts such as Sandra Steingraber point out that repeated injection drilling into salt caverns creates instability underground and the potential for disaster. “It’s an inherently dangerous situation,” she told Mother Jones magazine in a recent interview. “When you keep drilling over and over again, whether it’s into bedrock or into salt caverns at some point you have fractured the integrity of this underground structure enough that something is in danger of collapse.”
The Texas Brine mine in Bayou Corne has been extracting fluids that are refined into sodium hydroxide and chlorine for use in the chemical manufacturing industry.
The State of Louisiana is suing Texas Brine and Occidental Chemical for environmental damage, including “damage to Louisiana’s waters, natural resources, and the State’s Coastal Zone.” The fine has been assessed at $32,500 of civil penalties each violation day and up to $1 million a day for violations deemed intentional and willful.
According to radiation expert Stanley Waligora, the sinkhole is now producing radiation about 15 times Louisiana’s acceptable levels.
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Mitchell DJ. Louisiana suing Texas Brine over Assumption Sinkhole. Baton Rouge Advocate. 2013, Aug 4.
Murphy T. Meet the Town That’s Being Swallowed by a Sinkhole. Mother Jones Magazine. 2013. Aug 7.
Bayou Corne Sinkhole radiation 15 times over limit. The Thorton Review. http://thethorntonreview.com/news/environmental/1831-bayou-corne-sinkhole-radiation-15-times-over-limit. Acc. Aug 8 2013.