Louisiana’s onshore faults and fractures link to Gulf of Mexico where methane gas has been leaking since April 2010 when BP wrecked the Macondo well, MC 252. Presently, Apache Corporation is trying to stop methane that is migrating from its well. (Photo Credit: Dr. Sherwood Gagliano et. al)
Proven and suspected faults in South Louisiana and of its coast in the Gulf of Mexico were mapped by Baton Rouge based Coastal Environments, Inc. president Sherwood Gagliano, PhD in 2005 and presented in a research report and slide presentation. (Photo Credit: Dr. Sherwood Gagliano et. al)
Explosive methane gas migrating along fault lines from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Peigneur and Bayou Corne sinkhole disaster salt domes is not only possible, but also has been a known oil and gas industry risk since 2005, according to a civil engineering expert who spoke with human rights reporter Deborah Dupré Monday.
“The fault lines are planes of weakness and the methane leakages represent the faults,” Sherwood Gagliano, Ph.D. said on the telephone Monday.
This “shows that scientists and officials are not as in-the-dark about the events,” Save Lake Peigneur member Glo Conlin wrote in an email Monday.
Apache Corporation is trying to kill highly pressured migrating gas in the Gulf of Mexico’s Main Pass Block 295 50 miles east of Venice and in BP’s wrecked MC-252 Macondo well region.
Wednesday, about 50 miles west, sheriff asked motorists to stay clear of Lake Peigneur due to two days of vigorous bubbling/foaming where an arsenic plume is.
Fifty miles further north, there’s enough methane bubbling in over 40 sites in the bayou “sinkhole” 2-mile salt dome area “to do very serious damage to anything on the surface if it’s not controlled,” according to chief geologist on that disaster case.
These events are linked in more ways than one, according to civil engineer and president of Baton Rouge-based Coastal Environments, Inc. Dr. Sherwood Gagliano, who has spent years researching fault lines in south Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
Down under dome quake danger
“Salt domes are there because of faults,” Gagliano said Monday. “They don’t just happen on their own.”
In fact, fault movement is an underrated natural hazard in South Louisiana, according to Gagliano. Differential movement between low-density salt and adjacent sedimentary deposits might have a wedging effect on faults, initiating brine water and gas moving up fault zones, he reports.
Aside from gas migrating from Apache’s well in the Gulf off Louisiana’s coast, at least two regional methane gas leakage events now occur near the Gulf, at Lake Peigneur and Bayou Corne, are linked: Each is manmade due to salt dome mining, rather than solely natural events.
“Those dome leakages with methane escaping are more due to hot water being pumped into them,” explained Gagliano.
The primary method of extracting underground salt is pumping hot water into the underground salt domes. “Today, all brine operations inject steam or hot water into dry salt beds.” (Michigan State University, Salt mining: mining part)
“We have over 100 of those facilities on faults in South Louisiana and Texas,” Gagliano said, then asserting. “They all need to be reevaluated.”
Sixty-one of those salt dome facilities correlate with known subsurface faults, according to Gagliano’s 2005 report.
Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) recently issued an order for all of the state’s 34 salt dome operators to show how close their oil and gas industry storage caverns are to outer edges of the domes, and prove that caverns nearest dome edges are structurally sound. This was an admission of the state previously failing to ensure such safety measures.
In 2005, Gagliano led a comprehensive study of suspected relationships between geological faults and subsidence in Southeastern Louisiana, reporting findings in Effects of Earthquakes, Fault Movements, and Subsidence on the South Louisiana Landscape.
“When oil, gas and produced water are removed, localized subsidence and fault movement may occur,” he then reported. “Geological fault movement, compaction and fluid withdrawal are inter-related processes contributing to subsidence.
“Differential movement between the low-density salt and adjacent sedimentary deposits may have a wedging effect on the faults, initiating brine water and gas movement up fault zones,” Gagliano reported. “The water and gas in turn may lubricate the fault plane surfaces and cause instability along fault segments.”
While finding that faulting poses a natural hazard in Louisiana, according to Gagliano, pumping water into the domes to dissolve salt for brine allows methane to migrate along faults and veins is risky business.
Gagliano concluded his 2005 report saying, “Until recently, the relationship between geological faulting and coastal land loss had been largely neglected by researchers, and by the coastal restoration community.”
Dangerous South Louisiana gas migration
Only 90 miles east of bubbling Lake Piegneur and about 140 miles from gas-bubbling Bayou Corne sinkhole area, Apache’s rig evacuated two weeks ago after an underground blowout. This event reportedly involves migrating natural gas only, and they are trying to “kill” it from a platform.
“In other instances of this happening, the upward-shooting gas also involves oil, both escaping into surrounding bedrock and ultimately reaching the water surface,” On Wings of Care Dr. Bonnie Shumaker reported after her Gulf flyover last week.
As gas continues migrating, the large surface sheen Shumaker had been seeing in MC-252 (Macondo well) area “seems to have gone.”
About 50 miles northwest of Apache’s incident, South Louisiana’s Vermilion and Iberia Parish sheriff’s offices and state officials responded to Wednesday morning calls by residents seeing Lake Peigneur bubbling two days running.
About 50 miles north of Lake Peigneur, 20 more methane gas bubbling sites were recorded by officials involved in Louisiana’s “sinkhole” disaster area.
Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office asked motorists to stay clear of Lake Peigneur area until the Louisiana’s Department of Natural resources (DNR) and Department of Environmental Quality assess the bubbling.
Nara Crowley, Save Lake Peigneur Inc. president, said last week marked the first time bubbling continued into a second day, although odd bubbling has occurred since 2005.
At a public hearing later on Wednesday night, locals also raised concerns about the amount of water from their sole water supply, Chicot Aquifer, that would be needed to create new caverns in the salt dome in the lake, and about an arsenic plume there.
Residents surrounding Lake Peigneur have long questioned the bubbling and many have opposed expanding the salt dome storage caverns in their lake.
Residents had gathered Wednesday night at a public hearing in New Iberia about the state permitting AGL Resources to expand its salt dome under Lake Peigneur with more caverns.
Jim Brugh, regional manager of Louisiana Water Company, LAWCO, said the company knows an arsenic plume is within the aquifer east of the company’s wells in New Iberia Parish.
“The company only recently developed a new well field west of the plume that it estimated the arsenic wouldn’t reach for 50 years,” the Daily Iberian reported. With accelerated draw down from AGL resources, however, Brugh said Wednesday night that they could not be so sure.
“We’re very, very concerned the plume will contaminate the wells,” Brugh said.
State Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, questioned the need of caverns and their impact on coastal resources: Natural gas storage is 16 percent higher than the five-year average while, “our coastal resources are among the most valued in the nation, yet the fastest disappearing on the planet.”
“Protect the lake,” Mills said, “she has suffered enough.”
Thursday, Louisiana’s DNR sent field agents to investigate bubbling at Lake Peigneur, where natural gas is stored in its large salt dome.
“We found foaming residue on the top,” said DNR spokesman Patrick Courreges, adding that the foam “is the result of something happening,” reported the Advocate.
Crowley said this most recent bubbling period seems longer than any other episode, several hours Wednesday and Thursday morning. Lines of bubbles like over-boiled spaghetti foam stretched up to 3,000 feet across the lake.
Crowley and her group have been reporting the odd bubbling on Lake Peigneur since 2005.
Courreges said it is too early to speculate what might be causing the bubbling.
Bayou Corne sinkhole disaster bubbling
Bayou Corne’s salt dome “sinkhole” disaster in Assumption Parish 50 miles from Lake Peigneur has exacerbated Lake Peigneur residents’ personal safety concerns. Perhaps other Louisiana towns and cities should be equally concerned.
“In the past, when Bayou Corne residents asked about the bubbling, the answer was, ‘It’s swamp gas,’” said Gloria Conlin, of Abbeville, also active in Save Lake Peigneur. “To Lake Peigneur residents, that sounds familiar.”
Officials now officially admitted that the methane substantially more than 50,000,000 cubic feet of gas below surface near giant sinkhole covers over two square miles — “enough to do “very serious damage” and very rapidly “if uncontrolled.”
At the Feb. 19 Senate Committee Hearing on Bayou Corne about the “sinkhole,” geologist Dr. Gary Hecox stated, “The gas across here is between 2 and 10 feet thick[…] around 50-60 psi pressure.
“It is enough to have large volumes come to the surface very rapidly if it’s uncontrolled,” Hecox said.
“It’s enough to do very serious damage to anything on the surface if it’s not controlled.”
Hecox said, “We’ve estimated the volume of gas in the MRAA as 50 million cubic feet in place.
Hecox said an updated estimate probably probably be available at the end of this week will probably be “substantially bigger than the 50 million.”
Increasingly for nine months, gas from an unknown source has been bubbling in S. Louisiana’s Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou area in Assumption Parish, an “unprecedented,” a globally “historic” event.
Two months after first reports about the gas there, a large sinkhole appeared and has been expanding ever since. It is now almost 9 acres. In eight months, the area went from having a few gas bubbling sites to over 40 bubbling sites. Officials reported that this month, they recorded an additional 20 bubbling sites.
Bubbles have been video recorded in Bayou Corne resident yards after heavy rains. Gas has been officially detected under the Bayou Corne community. Officials and residents fear a giant explosion, prompting an order for homes on slate to install industrial gas monitors.
“Bubbles can indicate pathways where oil could soon follow,” the Times Picayune reported in July 2010 about the BP Gulf oil catastrophe. Bayou Corne’s sinkhole disaster is seemingly demonstrating this: spewing not only gas, but also crude oil also from an unknown source, into the Cajun swampland waterways and communities.
Wednesday, WWL Radio host Spud spoke to State Rep. Joe Harrison about the “sinkhole” in Assumption Parish saying “it is getting more and more out of hand.” Speaking about a vicinity methane explosion, Spud said, “There has been nothing with the potential of this.”
Harrison agreed it is “very possible” that a big explosion could go off and that “this is absolutely unprecedented.”
“They haven’t been able to identify all the chemicals coming out of the ground,” and “the chemical compounds are mixing together and they’re trying to get a link as to where they’re coming from.”
“We have no plan,” he said.
The late Matthew Simmons had said in 2010 that, due to gas leaking from the Gulf since the BP-wrecked Macondo Prospect (MC-252), Louisiana needed a plan – to evacuate its southern region.
Macondo Prospect is in the same vicinity as the now highly pressurized gas migrating below the Gulf floor attributed. While it remains to be seen whether a connection exists between Apache’s migrating gas gas bubbling in Assumption Parish, in 2010, Simmons warned of apocalyptic consequences of the BP-wrecked MC-252, Macondo oil well.
“It is an overlooked danger in oil spill crisis: The crude gushing from the well contains vast amounts of natural gas,” AP reported.
Methane is typically trapped in small amounts beneath the earth’s surface. In the Gulf, an abundance of the gas is in the seafloor.
Methane caused the original Macondo well explosion. The chemical reaction of cement setting created heat that converted a pocket of methane hydrate crystals into a bubble of compressed gas that in turn, grew as it rose up the drill column and caused the rig to explode.
“A small bubble becomes a really big bubble,” said top oil expert Dr. Robert Bea, a UC Berkeley professor and government consultant. “So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face.”
“The gas flooded into an adjoining room with exposed ignition sources, Bea said, causing the first explosion, and others followed. According to one interview transcript, the gas cloud caused giant engines on the drill floor to run too fast and explode, setting ‘everything on fire,’” the Tribune reported.
Methane, the volatile gas that triggered Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig operated by BP, comprised at least a third the total volume of material subsequently discharged into the Gulf, according to the Herald Tribune in Feb 2011.
“While the crude oil received all the attention, methane was largely overlooked as a component of the spill, despite its potential to also cause environmental damage,” the Tribune reported.
According to marine scientist Dr. Samantha Joye, 1000 times more methane was involved with BP’s Gulf oil catastrophe than normal levels.
In June 2010, “A BP spokesman said the company was burning about 30 million cubic feet of natural gas daily from the source of the leak, adding up to about 450 million cubic feet since the containment effort started 15 days ago.”
By July, scientists reported four gas “seeps” at or near BP’s blown-out Macondo well soon after the supposed capping (a “sham” TV performance to fool the public, according to Simmons). Bubbles were spotted: 1) on the seabed about three kilometers from the well, 2) a few hundred meters from the well, 3) at the base of the original blowout preventer on the well, and 4) coming out of a gasket in on the installed capping stack.
Pressure had been rising in the well, a good sign indicating it might have been sealed — “But the readings are much lower than expected — 6,811 pounds per square inch and rising an inch an hour — igniting a debate over whether the well may have a leak somewhere,” the Times Picayune reported Day 81 of the well gushing.
An expert warned soon after Macondo was supposedly capped that doing so could have unintended consequences. “Gas hydrate crystals could be plugging any holes in the underground portion of the well, and they could get dislodged as pressure builds,” said Bill Gale, a California engineer and industrial explosion expert who is a member of the Deepwater Horizon Study Group [formerly Chief Loss Prevention Engineer for Bechtel in San Francisco].
In other words, methane crystals might have destroyed part of the steel well casing temporarily plugged by methane. It was speculated that the well capping might slowly raise the pressure in the well to the point that hydrate crystals were dislodged and the well would start leaking even more.
Scientists said the methane could even disturb the seafloor itself, as St. Peterburg Times reported Carol Lutken of University of Mississippi expalined. “Disturbing those [methane hydrate] deposits — say, by drilling an oil well through them — can turn that solid methane into a liquid, leaving the ocean floor unstable.”
Almost a year later, in June 2011, Joye and other experts argued that the odorless yet potent methane still seeped into the Gulf, contradicting reports that a bacteria ate the methane within four months of the Gulf’s Macondo well catastrophe.
“Off-camera, Joye and other scientists were bombarded with phone calls from furious officials, from NOAA and other government agencies,” the Guardian reported in April 2011.
“I felt like I was in third grade and my teacher came up to me with a ruler and smacked my hand and said: ‘You’ve just spoken out of turn.’ They were very upset,” Joye said.
After BP’s crude continued leaking over a year, and another attempt made to kill the stricken well, the cofferdam leaked due to methane gushing out of the well, accumulating and clogging the cofferdam, and making it float.
The cofferdam is the 40-foot-tall, 86-ton steel containment dome used in early stages of the BP Gulf oil catastrophe response in attempt to trap the leaking oil and funnel it to the surface.
“Methane crystals also clogged a four-story containment box that engineers earlier tried to place on top of the breached well,” the Christian Monitor reported in June 2010 in an article, Gulf gas: BP oil spill increases methane in Gulf waters.
Simmons was highly vocal on nationwide news programs, making claims that led some people to question his sanity along with blowing the whistle on BP and Government. But was Simmons’ predictions of migrating gas sound?
He pointed to a strong possibility of several Gulf leaks, not just one the U.S. media and BP showed in videos and the live-stream capping of a well. Simmons first suggested this on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan program on May 26th, 2010.
Responding to a question about a second leak, Simmons replied that much oil was six miles away, and said, “I think that’s where the wellhead is.” He mentioned telling government officials that.
On June 7, 2010, Simmons predicted a discovery of an open hole with no casing in it, about seven miles from where BP had been trying to fix the little tiny leaks in the drilling riser . He said BP had done everything wrong.
Before his untimely death, Simmons blew the whistle not only on BP’s lies, but also Government lies about the Gulf catastrophe. Based on his close connections to other oil industry insiders and top government officials charged with regulating the oil industry, he said claims of only 5,000 barrels of oil leaking were “preposterous,” and instead conjectured minimally 120,000 barrels of BP’s oil leaking into the Gulf.
He reported leaks 5 to 7 miles from Macondo, later confirmed by NOAA in the Thomas Jefferson. By mid-July 2010, BP admitted possible leaks from the seabed some distance from the Macondo wellbore.
In a July 17, 2010 interview with Eric King on King World News, Simmons warned about the gigantic “lake” of crude oil pooling under great pressure 4000 to 5000 feet down in the “basement” of the Gulf’s waters.
“It was painful to speak out,” Simmons told King. “When I believe something, I believe it’s kind of my responsibility to speak out about it.”
“Are people in danger?” King asked Simmons, who responded affirmatively, continuing with statements about methane gas and aying, “It could be the greatest loss of life from a non-war disaster.”
Simmons revealed that NOAA ships discovered a huge underwater plume of oil at 1100 meters below the surface that could possibly cover up to 40% of the Gulf of Mexico, as NOAA and the federal government were publicly denying underwater oil plumes.
After BP “capped” the Macondo well, Simmons stood by his earlier claims: The well capping was fake and BP’s second well in the Gulf was gushing crude and methane.
“The perjury going on has just been astonishing,” he told King.
Simmons made national headlines by stating BP would go bankrupt due to not having enough money to clean the Gulf and that Macondo well’s integrity and pressures were so high, nothing short of a small nuke could close it. He said that until then, it would continue leaking an inexhaustible amount of oil and gas.
When King asked Simmons if he had whistleblowers feeding information to him, he replied yes but that they were also saying, “Help me. I need some help.
“Some of these oceanographers on these research vessels have said, ‘Mr. Simmons, I’m so proud of you, but I need your help. I’m having my professional career tarnished by saying I’m lying about this just to get money.’”
Simmons recommended that experts with methane gas expertise provided advice for the safety of Gulf Coasters.
Like nitrogen, methane is an asphyxiant, meaning it can kill people by displacing oxygen. It can also be the source of explosions if a spark ignites it, as Bayou Corne “sinkhole” area residents and officials justifiably fear some 100 miles from Macondo and the migrating gas.
Simmons said people, especially in Louisiana, needed to be evacuated due to the Gulf’s “open hole.”
“There will be a vast amount of methane gas coming out of there,” Simmons said.
From experience in Houston with Hurricane Rita (2005), he said last-minute evacuation would likely be disasterous with highways jammed hopelessly, drivers out of gas, and then gas stations out of gas.
BP should be barred from media airwaves since they lied to cover up their criminal negligence and culpability, Simmons asserted. Instead, last week, District Judge Carl Barbier ruled BP will not even be liable for the full $21 billion in fines for dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. The company now faces maximum liability of $17.6 billion.
“That’s less than the oil giant made in 2012 alone – when they raked in profits of over $25 billion,” Thom Hartmann says this week.
“There’s no dollar amount that brings back the 11 workers killed on the Deep Water Horizon.”
There’s no dollar amount that brings back hundreds if not untold estimated thousands of deaths from what more than one victim has called, “chemical genocide” of BP’s Gulf oil catastrophe.
“We should give BP the corporate death penalty and revoke their right to do business in our nation,” Hartman asserts.
Furthermore, as biological oceanographer at Florida State University researcher Ian MacDonald said, “When discussing the spill, it has been the tendency of both the government and BP to completely ignore the gas that was released. I think they are responsible legally and ethically.”
Copyright 2013 Deborah Dupré
Please seek permission from this author before copying this article for email or website reposting. Copyright violation is not a victimless crime.
Human Rights news reporter Deborah Dupré is author of “Vampire of Macondo, Life, crimes and curses in south Louisiana that Powerful Forces Don’t want you to know,” 450 pages packed with censored stories about the BP-wrecked Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico that continues causing hidden catastrophic human and environmental devastation.
Follow Dupré on Twitter @DeborahDupre. For interviews, email [email protected]
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