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La. sinkhole danger, gas gathering concerns officials

Assumption Parish and Texas Brine LLC officials involved with south Louisiana's 26-acre sinkhole agree that the disaster is far from over and that gas gathering below it is the danger upon which they are focusing.

Land sliding sideways at the unprecedented Louisiana sinkhole
Cathleen Jones/Geology/NASA

From paradise to danger zone

3D seismic surveys show Bayou Corne's sinkhole in Assumption Parish is beginning to slow and stabilize. Recovery, however, is focused on another danger: natural gas gathering underneath a nearby aquifer.

Texas Brine and Assumption Parish officials are holding a meeting at 5:30 P.M. to inform the community on the latest developments.

Vent wells siphoning gas from beneath the ground will be the focus of the meeting.

The swamp monster sinkhole has established a pattern in the area: seismic activity occurs, the monster sinkhole burps up debris it had swallowed, a slough-in occurs, and the sinkhole grows accordingly.

It burps when air and gas from deep in the sinkhole bubbles up, causing not only debris, but also a hazardous oily substance to float to the top.

It has a "slough-in," swallowing trees and land on its edge.

In June 2012, locals reported gas bubbles in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou. By early August, 200 feet of ground had opened in the swamp. The Earth's surface slid sideways up to 10 inches (26 centimeters) before it collapsed into the Bayou Corne sinkhole, according to a new study based on recordings of what happened when the hole formed.

Cathleen Jones, a radar scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. said about the report of the slide, "Usually at a sinkhole, we expect to see vertical movement at the surface, some sort of subsidence. This horizontal motion is actually a new indicator people should be aware of."

Live Science reported last month:

The subtle surface changes revealed in the new study, published in the Dec. 13 issue of the journal Geology, could improve models of how the sinkhole formed, Jones said. "I think this can tell you something about the path between the cavern collapse, which is about a mile deep, and the surface," she said. The sideways flow was like water slipping into a bathtub drain, Jones said. "The fact that the movement was toward a center point might tell you something about the geometry of the path that went down to the void," she said. The subtle flow forms a pattern like a two-leafed clover, consistent with a cavern sidewall collapse as suspected by the USGS, Jones and NASA colleague Ronald Blom report.

The pit opened into a natural underground oil reservoir, releasing oil and toxic gases, such as methane and hydrogen sulfide throughout the hole and into the communities.

The disastrous hole has now grown to 26 acres and become a chemical lake. Officials had predicted it could grow as large as 30 football fields.

One of Texas Brine salt caverns that it leases from a salt dome company collapsed, causing the sinkhole.

That cavern had problems years ago. State officials knew that and quietly turned a blind eye to it, even when the problems prompted the company to abandon it.

Scientists now say that Texas Brine's cavern was too close to the outer edge of the entire 1-mile by 3-mile Napoleonville Salt Dome salt dome housing it.

Texas Brine is one of seven companies storing oil and gas-related chemicals, including butane, in the salt dome.

A class-action lawsuit against mining companies Texas Brine and Occidental Chemical was filed in federal court in May 2013.

Residents were told to evacuate and began receiving weekly checks from Texas-Brine in the amount of $875 per week.

The sinkhole is still growing, gobbling hundred-year-old trees and threatening Highway 70 south of Baton Rouge and west of New Orleans.

When Jones first learned about the sinkhole in April 2013, she suspected NASA's radar data would show little extra information, due to soggy ground in Louisiana's swamps interfering with radar imaging. She was wrong.

"The signal was so big it overwhelmed all that noise [from the soil moisture]," Jones said. "When I looked at the data, I thought, 'Wow, this is an enormous signature.'

"I couldn't believe it," she said. "The whole area was being pulled toward the sinkhole."

The area has become a "national sacrifice zone" for the oil and gas industry.

Sources: KPLC TV, Assumption Parish, Louisiana Sinkhole Examiner, Science Live

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