Louisiana’s Giant, Toxic Sinkhole

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Last August, 150 families living in Bayou Corne, Louisiana, about 45 miles south of Baton Rouge, were forced to evacuate after a massive sinkhole swallowed up surrounding land. The sinkhole was caused by the collapse of a salt dome mined by the company Texas Brine. Since then, the sinkhole has grown to nine acres and a depth of 5,000 feet, and has pulled in swampland and trees while sending up bubbling methane and dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas which is lethal at high concentrations. Beneath the sinkhole are some 500 billion cubic feet of gas and 200 million gallons of crude oil, according to Golden Gate Petroleum, LTD.

Celebrity environmental activist Erin Brockovich called national attention to the disaster on a recent visit. Brockovich told reporters: “There is absolutely risk and potential for explosions,” adding that residents “didn’t feel like they were getting their questions answered immediately. They were frightened. They didn’t know what was going on. They felt that if they could reach me it was something that they could trust.”

An organization called Bridge the Gulf reports that Texas Brine, the company that leased the mine, is a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, the company responsible for the toxic dumping of 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals at Love Canal affecting Niagara Falls residents beginning in 1942.

This week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has finally agreed to visit the site, and has met with Texas Brine officials about buyouts for residents forced to evacuate. “It’s time for Texas Brine to step up and do the right thing for the people of Bayou Corne,” Jindal said in a prepared statement.

As noted by Bridge the Gulf, residents have felt all but ignored by the governor in their concern over the sinkhole. Even before the sinkhole appeared, residents complained of tremors and natural gas bubbles coming up from the swamp. There is also a second brine cavern that could collapse, which could potentially take part of nearby Highway 70 with it. Jindal has come up with a contingency plan in the event of such a collapse.

Resident Brandon Alleman, who lived in the area with his wife and two young children before evacuating, is in one of four lawsuits against Texas Brine in federal court in New Orleans. Of the governor’s planned visit to Bayou Corne, Alleman told the Advocate: “I guess it’s better late than never, and I hope he can do something to help us out and get us on with our lives.”