Officials advised the Assumption Parish President on Thursday that Bayou Corne sinkhole area has high levels of methane in nearby water wells, posing risks to health, fire and explosion and that residents need to heed the mandatory evacuation order. That day, parish officials postponed Saturday's resident briefing with no explanation.
“Of the chemicals reviewed, only methane, detected in the industrial water wells, presents a potential health risk (Type 2 of fire/explosion),” Dr. Raoult Ratard, State Epidemiologist of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Office (DHH) of Public Health stated in an environmental data report of the Bayou Corne oil and gas sinkhole event sent to Assumption Parish President Martin S. Triche Thursday.
That morning, at 9:00 a.m., parish officials stated in a blog post developed to keep residents informed about the sinkhole incident, “*NOTE* The resident briefing scheduled for Saturday morning has been rescheduled for Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at the Command Post at 6:00 p.m.
Methane, the mysterious 'powerful underground force' reported by officials?
Speculations are increasing that methane is the mysterious "powerful underground force" wreaking havoc in south Louisiana, including the sinkhole disaster area.
Methane gas leaks are spreading throughout the south Louisiana area. Within four months, as of this week, methane bubbling sites have increased to twenty-eight, including in Pierre Part, outside the mandatory evacuation area but within hearing distance and jolts of seismic activities where foul chemical odors are nauseating and burning, as some residents there have reported.
When power flickered out a brief spell Friday night, one Pierre Part resident Alicia Heilig, 27, was too frightened to sleep.
Heilig lives near one of the latest detected bubbling sites, #16 on the parish map, and has struggled with her two children and mother being sick since the sinkhole gas incident and the smell of strong chemicals there began.
“I took a drive down to the sinkhole area to make sure it wasn’t anything to do with that,” Heilig told reporter Deborah Dupré in an email.
“That whole area is hazy," Heilig wrote. “Almost like fog, but its not foggy anywhere else."
A power truck was parked at the sinkhole area gas station, according to Heilig.
"Don’t know what’s up, but glad my kids aren’t home tonight,” she reported, further indicating the ongoing human rights to health and security violation.
Ratard stated in the Oct. 3 letter that high levels of methane have been detected in water wells in the sinkhole area, according to DHH that reviewed 11 samples and readings.
“With levels as high as 22,400, 26,600 and 27, 700 ug/L, it would appear immediate remediation is warranted,” DHH advises.
The DHH letter to Triche "encourages local residents" to do three things:
1) "heed the evacuation orders issued"
2) "avoid restricted areas"
3) "discuss any health concerns they have with their physician"
According to the parish official blog post where residents are updated, and to residents, parish officials have yet to advise them about the DHH letter about high levels of methane or what they are being encouraged to do.
Gas has also been found in the aquifer above the 1-mile by 3-mile Napoleonville Salt Dome farther east and deeper underground in the dome’s hard cap rock, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials said. DNR then ordered the Napoleonville Dome’s seven operators to find and vent or flare any gas.
On Sept. 14, the DNR issued an underreported Declaration of Emergency and Directive advisory regarding gas in the sinkhole area being life-threatening.
In that advisory, Louisiana DNR’s Commissioner of Conservation James H. Welsh stated:
"It is hereby declared that the presence of natural gas in formations and sands shallower than the underlying cap-rock, and in the Mississippi Alluvial Aquifer, and its top stratum in and around the Bayou Corne area has the potential to threaten lives, the environment, property and operations, sites and facilities under the regulatory authority of the commissioner of conservation."
The 4-acre sinkhole emerged on Aug. 3 after two months of thousands of earthquakes and natural gas bubbling in the swampland area waterways and at some of the land-based water wells.
“This sucks to have to live where you get freaked out anytime there’s a loud noise or if the power flicks off,” Heilig said Friday. “I’m so on edge and jumpy right now.”
A transformer failed at 12:59 a.m. in Baton Rouge 50 miles from the sinkhole, according to the website of Entergy Louisiana LLC.
Frank’s Casing Crew and Rental Tools of Lafayette has been contracted to drill three shallow wells to explore the gas in the aquifer.
DNR spokesman Patrick Courreges said Thursday that officials signed contracts earlier this week with the company. The drilling equipment is expected on-site Saturday and Sunday.
Courreges said that the approximately 100 feet deep wells will be on land between the sinkhole and Bayou Corne community and another located west of Bayou Corne to see if gas is that far west in the aquifer.
Air is being tested from three new bubble sites farther west of the sinkhole, toward Pierre Part, according to officials.
The sinkhole is engulfing the entire 1-mile by 3-mile Napoleonville Salt Dome, according to at least one lifetime resident of the area. Scientists working on the disaster have also listed the salt dome "moving" as a possibility.
"I think they need to tell people the truth and how serious this can be," Heilig's mother, Deby told Dupré on the telephone Thursday. "Be honest, especially about the water; that it could be contaminated, even far from the sinkhole."
Methane threatening health, fires, explosions along Gulf coast since BP wrecked Macondo Prospect
“Long before the sinkhole, we’ve smelled natural gas," Deby Heilig said. "We don’t have natural gas here. We use propane."
Lake Peigneur, less than 70 miles west of Pierre Part, also has new methane bubbling sites that officials are dismissing, according to local human rights defenders concerned not only for their welfare and safety, but also those of Assumption Parish residents.
Lake Peigneur was a 10-foot (3.0 m) deep freshwater lake until a 1980 Texaco oil drilling disaster turned it into a 1,300 feet deep salt-water lake and turned the peaceful lives of local residents into an ongoing battle with government officials and oil and gas industries and their salt dome storage facilities.
This week quakes jolted residents in two parishes between the sinkhole and the Gulf of Mexico.
Officials had called extra security to the Bayou Corne disaster area after "powerful underground forces" caused the monster sinkhole in the swampland, bent a gas pipeline to a right angle in a 400-foot section next to the bubbling hole, caused evacuation of 150 homes, temporarily shut a four-mile stretch of Highway 70, and renewed discussion about a methane-bubble tsunami from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico BP blow-out.
In July 2010, BP found a mega pocket of highly pressurized methane gas in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two years ago, after BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe began, scientists observed methane concentrations in the Gulf up to 10,000 times higher than normal and corresponding oxygen depletion levels.
Methane has continued seeping from the Macondo Prospect area for over two years.
This week, officials revealed that the "wrecked" Macondo Prospect oil well BP was drilling when its rig exploded, killing 11 men and setting off an irreversible catastrophe, "possibly" has fissures or cracks in the seabed from which oil is leaking, as reported by this author over two years ago.
Back on July 1, 2010, Yahoo News reported "millions of lives may be at risk from a deadly methane eruption."
"The threat of a methane gas explosion in the Gulf has been attributed to fear mongering. Is there any evidence to these claims?" stated Yahoo News reporter Dave Jackson.
Robotic submarines had returned alarming video footage of methane gas hazards.
"Cracks and fissures are opening up on the sea floor over an area of several miles. A number of 'pock marks' have appeared on the sea floor as far as 20 miles away from the original Macondo blow out.
"Oil and methane gas are escaping from areas that have never even been drilled," Jackson wrote.
Frighteningly, these fissures appear to be growing and connecting with each other. The methane pockmarks are growing in size. Even worse, the weakened sea floor is being heaved up into a massive, fracturing, mound. A geological time bomb, previously locked away under miles of rock, has been disturbed. Fear is growing for the very grim possibility that a methane gas bubble, 15 to 20 miles in diameter, could indeed rupture the sea floor and escape with unimaginable violence.
"This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern history," said John Kessler of Texas A & M University. The oil contains 40% methane - much higher than the usual 5%.
Kessler found that underwater methane in some areas approached "a million times above background concentrations."
In addition to methane, the EPA has found extremely high levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide in the Macondo Prospect investigations, the same chemicals that officials have detected in the Bayou Corne area and that locals there can smell.
In 2010 Macondo investigations, early H2S readings were 1,200 ppb - far higher than the allowed 5 - 10 ppb.
Environmental attorney Stuart Smith concluded this week the same that many human rights defenders have said and continue saying about the Gulf oil catastrophe coverup, one that appears more each day to include the sinkhole disaster:
"This is not over by a long shot and BP needs to come up with a lot more money. It’s time that BP and the Feds come clean about all this fresh oil."
Deborah Dupré is author of the forthcoming book, "Vampire of Macondo," about the 2010 BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.