The demise of a Louisiana village

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 06:51 PM

Have you ever heard of the village of Bayou Corne?  

It is in a swampy area in south-central Louisiana.  Last year it had a population of about 360 people.   

In the summer of 2012 its residents noticed some tremors in the ground and some mysterious bubbling up of the bayou.  Then in August, a sinkhole opened on land leased by the petrochemical company Texas Brine.  The sinkhole covered about one acre. Noxious fumes arose from the hole.   Louisiana authorities became alarmed and ordered the residents to evacuate.

The sinkhole is filled with water and is growing bigger and bigger.  Today it is about 25 acres in size – and will continue to grow.  There is a video shown on television (and now on the net) which shows how it swallowed cypress trees from roots to topmost branches. The trees disappeared completely into a sinkhole estimated to be about 750 feet deep! That video is scary – particularly to local residents.  

The sinkhole emits unpleasant gases which have wafted into all areas of the village. Tainted water has also spread into Bayou Corne.

Mother Jones magazine explains the operation this way:

“Texas Brine’s operation sits atop a three-mile wide, mile-plus deep salt deposit known as the Napoleonville Dome, which is sheathed by a layer of oil and natural gas. . . .   The company [operates] . . . injection mining and it had sunk a series of wells deep into the salt dome, flushing them with high-pressure streams of freshwater and pumping the resulting saltwater to the surface.”  The brine is then piped out to refineries . . .and broken down into sodium hydroxide and chlorine.”

Industries have used the caverns that result from injection mining to store crude oil, gases and other unpleasant substances.

Imagine how you would feel if you lived in Bayou Corne.  One resident declared, “I am so ---- mad I could kill somebody.”

His anger was probably at Texas Brine or the regulators.  Yet the blame for this disaster, as well as other similar calamities goes further up the chain. 

Blame can be put on the Louisiana legislature and government, which have allowed so much injection mining.  Texas Brine’s cavern is one of six going into the Napoleonville Dome.  Other companies bring the total to 53 caverns.

Injection mining has increased rapidly in many states.  Yet it is being done without full understanding of the results of the mining.

Once it is allowed, it grows fast, and reaches out to more and more land.    The only safe way to handle this is not to allow injection mining.  Period.

In North Carolina, the law on hydraulic fracturing (injection mining) is complex.  It opens the possibility of mining, yet has many safeguards.  Many things must be done before the fracturing can actually begin.  

The General Assembly created the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, which, together with other agencies, will establish a program for hydraulic fracturing. Also, the legislature will have to review the situation before drilling can begin.  Drilling cannot start before October, 2014.  I seriously doubt it will start then.

So, if you are opposed the hydraulic fracturing, you have plenty of time to let your voice be heard.  The law was passed in a hurry after then-Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed it.

I’m sure the people of Louisiana did not realize the danger of injection drilling when they first allowed it.  Nor did they realize our scientists do not really understand enough to keep us safe from the drilling.

The people of Bayou Corne have suffered from that ignorance.   

As long as we allow our present techniques of injection mining, there will be serious accidents.

The problem is this: Once you allow injection mining, it will expand rapidly – too rapidly for us to properly control it.

Stanley Peele is a retired judge.