A terrible quick fix for the Louisiana sinkhole


Remember the people who brought you the Louisiana sinkhole, the Texas Brine Co? These are the folks whose drilling activities in a salt cavern underneath a small isolated community about 70 miles west of New Orleans caused problems that were overlooked by state regulators in Baton Rouge and ultimately led to a collapse and a massive water hole near the center of the town. That hole grew to the size of the Louisiana Superdome and then kept on getting bigger, while the earth below the rural town of Bayou Corne rumbled, and while highly flammable, toxic methane bubbled up from underground.

The now-two-year-old sinkhole is a terrible situation — but there had been signs in recent months that things in Assumption Parish were starting to stabilize. For one thing, Louisiana state regulators and even the normally recalcitrant Legislature finally started taking the sinkhole problem a little more seriously, and Texas Brine started reaching settlements that allowed some beleaguered residents to move out of Bayou Corne for good — a bittersweet ending to be sure.

But now, in the ongoing cleanup of the site, Texas Brine is doing what it does best: Taking the easy way out:

NAPOLEONVILLE — Texas Brine Co.’s push for a five-year state permit to discharge salty groundwater with traces of benzene and toluene into the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole has drawn concerns from environmentalists and landowners near the swampland hole in Assumption Parish.

The process has been underway for a year through short-term permits to help remove potentially dangerous methane gas collecting beneath the Bayou Corne community.

But environmentalists say the discharge introduces contaminated groundwater into the sinkhole and poses a risk to the surrounding freshwater swamp if sinkhole containment levees fail.

They point out that the levee around the lakelike, 37-acre sinkhole, which itself has high salt levels and other trace contaminants at its deepest levels, has failed before because of stirrings under the sinkhole and is just feet from the Bayou Corne waterway and sensitive aquatic life.

“We don’t know what all is going on underground,” Darryl Malek-Wiley, Sierra Club representative, said Wednesday.

In other words, it seems as if nobody has really learned their lesson yet from this environmental fiasco. In their speed to get everything dumped somewhere, and then get out of town as quickly as possible, Texas Brine is proposing not only the cheapest but the riskiest disposal method possible. The real solution is the simplest. These toxic wastes need to be collected using state-of-the-art techniques, then transported to a landfill that is properly licensed for the disposal of hazardous wastes.


But not all of the blame here belongs on Texas Brine. They would not be proposing this if they did not know they were dealing with a bunch of toothless tigers in Baton Rouge. Remember, the bureaucrats signing off on this plan are the same ones who — three years ago — were warned by Texas Brine of potential problems underground…and did nothing.

In a couple of months, the 2015 political season will begin and Louisiana will finally start the long-awaited process of picking a new governor. I honestly don’t know if Gen. Russel Honore, who’s been speaking some tough environmental truths, will be running, or what impact his “Green Army” environmental movement might have. But I know that any change at the top has got to be an improvement over what we have now.

Check out coverage from the Advocate on Texas Brine’s polluting discharge plan: http://theadvocate.com/news/10234852-123/concerns

© Smith Stag, LLC 2014 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • we get a list of all the chemicals in our water every month from the water company here in Napoleonville, at the end of the letter it says it is safe to drink,…. sorry but i drink bottle water,.. wonder if someone wants to pick up the bill?

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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