Lake Peigneur Salt Dome catastrophe, 1980. Lake Peigneur is experiencing mysterious bubbles, as repeatedly reported by Save Lake Peigneur campaigners led by Nara Crawley to state officials. Photo Credit: National Geographic
In a victory for Lake Peigneur rights defenders, in light of the Bayou Corne sinkhole collapsing salt dome disaster, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) Office of Conservation has issued a new order for all of the state’s 34 salt dome operators. The new directive orders all salt dome operators to show how close their oil and gas industry storage caverns are to outer edges of the subterranean salt domes, and also to prove that caverns closest to the salt dome edges are structurally sound.
“Finally the DNR is questioning other salt dome cavern storage,” stated Nara Crawley in a written statement. “There is bubbling in Lake Peigneur. Find the cause before giving a permit to expand.”
Crawley has been leading a campaign for years to pressure the state officials to investigate why bubbling is occurring on Lake Peigneur, site of the 1980 salt dome sinkhole mega-disaster and to halt giving a company permission to expand the storage facility there.
She and her group, Save Lake Peigneur, have been outraged that Louisiana Department of Natural Resources has repeatedly dismissed their voiced concerns and recently allowed the first steps to for AGL Resources Inc. to begin expanding the Lake Peigneur salt dome for additional storage, without investigating or addressing bubbling occurring there.
Louisiana Sen. Fred Mills has told Deborah Dupré that he believes it appears Assumption Parish’s salt dome sinkhole disaster is becoming another ongoing manmade Lake Peigneur salt dome catastrophe, a government supported oil and gas industry “genocide” through poisoned water.
Mysterious gas bubbles plaguing Bayou Corne sinkhole area have increased at Lake Peigneur, 80 miles west of the now historic Bayou Corne sinkhole.
“We tried to pass legislation last year to prevent these salt dome catastrophes in Louisiana, but they looked at us like we’re against progress,” Mills said, adding, “This is genocide. This is a statewide issue. There’s more arsenic in water here now, and other contaminants. It’s just getting worse.”
Supported by Save Lake Peigneur rights defenders impacted by Peigneur’s 1980 event and subsequent water contamination, Mills presented Senate Bill No. 532 to Louisiana’s legislators in 2012. Oil and gas lobbyists’ control of the legislators, however, overruled his bill, he explained.
“This is a health issue, not just regulatory,” Mills asserted about life-threatening salt dome storage caverns, including those under Lake Peigneur. Locals there now battle poisoning by related oil and gas industry contaminated water.
“I am in the process of having my water checked at a monstrous charge because vets are insisting I check my water after losing 3 dogs to cancer,” nearby Vermillion Parish resident, Charlene Jannise wrote to Sen. Jonathan Perry and Rep. Bob Hensgens.
“Their concern is for Mike and I and our well being. According to the vets, animals contact cancer-causing agents before humans,” Jannise wrote.
[See exclusive interview with Nara Crawley at Lake Peigneur below.)
The newly issued directive of Jan. 30 is in response to Louisiana’s collapsing oil and gas industry Napoleonville Salt Dome storage facility in Assumption Parish causing a state of emergency and a 6-month, with no-end-in-site mandatory evacuation.
As a result of this historical “sinkhole,” an oil and gas industry manmade disaster swallowing part of Assumption Parish, the local aquifer is contaminated, residents are experiencing new health problems, and the possibility of a massive explosion looms.
Scientists have speculated that one cavern in that Napoleonville Salt Dome, a Houston-based Texas Brine Co. Limited Liability Company cavern, has caused the 8.6-acre sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish. They also speculate that the “sinkhole” could expand to the size of 30 football fields.
Some old-timer locals have told Dupré that they anticipate the “sinkhole” will join Grand Bayou and Bayou Corne when swamp waters rise this spring.
Texas Brine, with two of the 50 caverns in the 1-mile by 3-mile Napoleonville Salt Dome, has used its caverns there to produce brine for the petrochemical industry. It was also issued a permit by the state in 2010 to store other materials there, including radioactive materials, NORM, a fossil fuel industry waste product that it claims it never injected into its cavern.
A major use of the other salt caverns there in the swampland and in the 33 other salt domes in Louisiana is to store gas, oil and other hydrocarbons.
Patrick Courreges, state Department of Natural Resources spokesman, said in an email to the Advocate that the new directive affects 220 active salt caverns in Louisiana, up to 50 plugged and abandoned caverns, and 11 pending permit applications for new solution-mined caverns.
Solution-mining companies, such as Texas Brine, pump fresh water into a well drilled into a salt body, dissolve a cavity in the salt and produce a highly saturated brine byproduct. That byproduct is used mainly to produce chlorine, a basic building block in petrochemical products.
For months, scientists have speculated that Texas Brine’s solution-mined cavern, that had been plugged and abandoned by June 2011 after problems were discovered and reported to the state, was close to the northwestern edge of the Napoleonville Salt Dome under much of the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities.
The company’s cavern salt sidewall deep underground caved in under pressure from outer rock, allowing millions of cubic yards of earth to mostly fill the cavern and to scramble the outer formations enough to cause a sinkhole to form and unleash oil and gas from strata nearby.
While Texas Brine’s cavern is believed to be the main source of the declared state of emergency, officials surprised locals at the last public meeting on Feb. 6 that six other caverns are also of concern and need to be investigated as the Texas Brine cavern is.
Texas Brine’s Oxy 3, Oxy 1, 2, 9, 10 and Crosstex 2 and 1 are all under scientific scrutiny now, according to Dr. Gary Hecox of the Shaw Environmental Group, contracted by the DNR to lead the disaster investigation and management. (Watch video below.)
Locals also heard officials say at the Feb. 6 meeting that, at the collapsing salt dome sinkhole area, “We’re actually starting to see fractures occurring in this disturbed zone at the surface.”
“If it’s a cavern fracture, failure, whatever, there’s little that you can do,” Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) civil engineer Chris Knotts told a crowd of 350 at a public briefing in Pierre Part, Louisiana in late August.
“If it’s as simple as a casing, yes (it can be fixed),” Knotts had said.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the collpasing salt dome and caverns in it are more that a simple matter of casing.
Louisiana cursed with oil, salt domes, abandoned wells
The Napoleonville Salt dome is one of hundreds of massive natural salt formations under the Gulf Coast thrust up through overlying rock over millions of years.
The abandoned Texas Brine cavern is among many.
“In Louisiana here, there are about 13,000 of these abandoned wells throughout the sate that still need to be mitigated because they are polluting parts of the state of Louisiana and that is Big Oil, our biggest employee here in Louisiana,” retired General Russel Honoré told CNN last year.
The Bayou Corne, La. sinkhole, 1000s of earthquakes, methane discovered under the region including under community homes and the possibility of an explosion have resulted in a mandatory evacuation of Bayou Corne, making 150 residences energy refugees.
Courreges said the directive to companies operating salt domes divides caverns into three categories and it imposes stiffer requirements to prove location and structural stability the closer a cavern is to salt dome formation’s edge.
“For those that may be within 300 feet of a salt edge, operators have additional requirements to show their caverns are not only stable now but can be verified to be stable in the future,” Courages wrote in the email.
Dow Chemical Company is the largest operator in the Napoleonville Dome, with over 880 acres and over 30 caverns for brine production or hydrocarbon storage.
Dow officials are confident their caverns are not within the 300 to 500 foot area of concern but are updating maps and waiting on up-to-date information before they respond to the directive, according to the Advocate.
Disaster response public meeting to be held in mandatory evacuation zone
Texas Brine officials told the Advocate that 3-D and other seismic studies are “under way or nearly finished,” as the DNR’s Office of Conservation required in response to the sinkhole.
Boone Exploration Inc., contracted by Texas Brine, did not send a letter document asking area landowners’ permission to conduct seismographic studies there until Feb. 8. It still awaits that permission.
Texas Brine and Boone Exploration Inc. plan a meeting and demonstration of the 3-D seismic survey planned for the area.
That meeting is slated from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Sportsman’s Landing in Bayou Corne, in the declared mandatory evacuation zone.
Repeatedly, for six months, residents have been warned: Heed the mandatory evacuation order due to the possibility of a methane gas explosion.
Since declaring the state of emergency, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal remains silent and “missing in action” regarding his state’s human and environmental disaster 50 miles from his mansion in Baton Rouge.
_______________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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