2013 July 28, Sunday
Bayou Corne "sinkhole", Louisiana
In less than one week it will be one year since the residents of Bayou Corne, Louisiana were told to leave their homes and community because of unknown danger from explosive gases in a sinkhole formed when the wall of a nearby salt dome collapsed barely a mile away from the community. We first flew over this small sinkhole in August of 2012, when its area was just a little over one acre, and trees were just beginning to give way and disappear into the depths. Now, one year later, that sinkhole spans about 24 acres and as nearly as deep as four football fields end-to-end. What residents thought might be a 30-day precautionary evacuation has turned out to be the end of their community, the end of their retirement plans, the end of their lives as they knew them.
Relief wells were drilled nearby before autumn set in last year, and sensors were placed inside the cavern to monitor gas pressure and the integrity of the cavern walls. Natural gas is trapped in wet sand beneath the sinkhole, under a layer of clay. There are also caverns nearby (many tens of them are in this area) that have been used to store butane -- a gas that is highly flammable in its vaporform. As long as the gas pressure remains low enough it, the risk of explosion remains manageably low. But leakage of the gas, which helps keep that pressure low, has also meant that gas is appearing in the local aquifers and bayous, bringing the hazards of pollution and risks of possible explosion ever closer to the homes and community of Bayou Corne. Seismic sensors have been put in place, and almost weekly there are alerts of substantial seismic activity, which could signal further collapse and consequent build-up of gas pressure.
The situation is tense and uncertain in Bayou Corne. Many citizen volunteers have been present for months to try to help residents in any way they can. Ultimately though, Texas Brine, the owners of the well here -- which was actually plugged and sealed with cement in the summer of 2011, now two years ago -- will have to answer for the economic and environmental damage caused by the failed cavern that caused this sinkhole. And we all need to demand that appropriate regulations be adopted to enforce safety standards that will minimize the risk of damages like this happening again. Just as building codes are written to ensure lasting safety of structures and their surroundings, drilling codes must be written and adhered to, in order to ensure that activities do not compromise the short- or long-term health or safety of the environment.
Here are two photos from today's flight. Below them are two photos from our flyover on August 13, 2012, almost one year ago. A full-length video of today's flyover is provided below.