UPDATE: Sinkhole crisis worsens, 2 workers rescued, town braces for possible butane catastrophe


The nightmare in Bayou Corne — the besieged small town in southeastern Louisiana coping with the effects of a massive sinkhole, compounded by the incompetence of state bureaucrats — keeps getting worse by the day.

UPDATE: Breaking news this afternoon: The sinkhole is expanding:

NAPOLEONVILLE (AP) — As experts predicted, a sinkhole filled with slurry water and vegetation has been slowing expanding.

Assumption Parish Police Jury spokeswoman Kim Torres says the sinkhole near Bayou Corne grew by 50 feet Thursday morning as the surrounding environment sloughs into it. Two cleanup workers in a boat near the site almost fell in and had to be rescued by airboat.

Their boat, which was tied to a tree, was eventually swallowed by the muck.

There were no injuries reported and cleanup operations have been suspended.

Before that, state regulators are preparing for a worst case scenario involving a nearby underground storage site for large quantities of highly explosive butane, which could be compromised by the sinkhole, creating a massive explosion.

How massive? The best of the worst-case scenarios comes from company and state officials, who’ve consistently underestimated the potential for damage from the failed brine cavern so far; they insist that the explosion might rattle some nearby windows. But others think an explosion involving so much highly combustible butane could be more like an atom bomb. The truth is out there.

The situation would have been more manageable if the company that harvested the salt home, Texas Brine Co., and officials from the inept Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had not tried to cover up the looming failure of the cavern, which they knew about as early as January 2011. The officials kept silent over the course of this summer as homes shook, noxious odors assaulted residents, and finally the growing sinkhole threatened natural gas pipelines and underground storage caverns in a section of the Bayou State already known as “Cancer Alley.”

Here’s the latest on the butane crisis, as first reported by the Advocate out of Baton Rouge:

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has asked the operator of a salt cavern near a sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish to describe what would happen if all butane that could be held in the underground storage facility were released to the surface, state officials said Tuesday.

DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch asked for the updated worst-case scenario from Crosstex Energy LP of Dallas by close of business Wednesday after reviewing the company’s current risk management plan for the cavern, state officials said in a news release.

The Crosstex salt cavern, which holds 940,000 barrels of liquid butane under pressure, is 1,600 feet from the sinkhole on the adjacent Texas Brine Co. LLC property south of La. 70 south.

The state officials said they were acting out of an abundance of caution but given the way that the situation in Assumption Parish has gone down so far — with local officials, not to mention residents, denied the most basic information — there is little reason to trust a word that they say:

DEQ officials said Tuesday there are “a lot of dynamic things” happening around the butane cavern, including expected well drilling, and community concerns have arisen. “We want to put all that to rest with sound science,” said Rodney Mallett, DEQ spokesman.

Heck, some of these state regulators wouldn’t know sound science if it jumped up out of the swamp and bit them in the tail end. In fact, local residents are increasingly venting their fury at Louisiana officials. They are demanding answers — and wholesale change:

While a DNR spokeswoman said Thursday there is no connection between DNR SecretaryScott Angelle’s abrupt resignationWednesday and the Bayou Corne sinkhole disaster, four Assumption Parish leaders have expressed anger over learning from news reports that DNR officials knew about related problems connected to the sinkhole.

“Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part; Sheriff Mike Waguespack; Police Jury President Martin ‘Marty’ Triche; and John Boudreaux, director of the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said they were ‘upset’ and ‘disturbed’ to learn about those problems not directly from DNR, but in a news account Thursday,” the Advocate reports.

“I’m very disappointed in DNR not being up-front,” Waguespack said.

A joint command addressing the sinkhole, natural gas releases and earthquakes — that have plagued Assumption Parish’s Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou residents for over two months — has regularly met with parish and state officials, including DNR officials, to discuss possible causes of the disaster that has resulted in a declared State of Emergency and mandatory evacuations.

“If we had data indicating there was a failed integrity test, then certainly that would make us believe there is a possibility something would be leaking,” the sheriff said.

So far in this slow-speed train wreck, everything has turned out worse than state or company officials have predicted or let on. The fantastic pilot Bonny Schumaker — who worked with me extensively on the Deepwater Horizon investigation — has been flying over the sinkhole site. This week, she wrote: “After flying over this sinkhole, and smelling the foul air for just 15 minutes, we can testify that it’s definitely not the minor concern of a few trees lost. ” You can see her pictures — and how the sinkhole is spreading rapidly — here.

Every day, we see Louisiana’s chickens — its inept at best, corrupt at worst management of its once splendid environment and its natural resources — coming home to roost in Bayou Corne. We’ll keep you informed about this ongoing crisis and hope that their worst-case scenarios finally stop from actually occurring.

To read the Advocate report on the risk of a butane explosion, please go here: http://theadvocate.com/home/3633853-125/deq-seeks-salt-cavern-butane

To learn about the bayou sinkhole cover-up furor, please go to: http://www.examiner.com/topic/assumption-parish-oil-and-gas-disaster/articles

To check out pictures from Bonny Schumaker’s flyovers of the sinkhole, go to: http://onwingsofcare.org/protection-a-preservation/humanitarian/287-20120813-bayoucorne-sinkhole.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved


  • Have the powers that be regarding this sinkhole learned nothing? Cover-ups do not work in the long run. They only serve to make matters worse. The people (especially those in the Louisiana Delta area must be told the truth to give them a chance to prepare for the inevitable. Truths told means lives saved!!!

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

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