It’s going to take years to fix the Louisiana sinkhole


They had another community meeting about the sinkhole crisis in Bayou Corne last night, and like the swamp itself, passions are boiling over. Residents are frustrated with the loss of their homes for nearly a year now, with the fairly paltry compensation they’ve been getting and with the pace of negotiations with the company responsible for this environmental disaster, Texas Brine Co.

Mike Schaff, a Bayou Corne resident, took issue with Texas Brine continuing to tell news outlets that the company pays residents $875 per week in assistance, which he said is inadequate. He noted the payments were required by the company’s permit issued in the early 1980s to drill the cavern that failed.

“I wish y’all would just quit, quit saying that, OK? That makes us sound like we’re nothing but greedy people. We’re not,” Schaff said.

“We want to move back to our house. We want to be able to bring our grandchildren back here. We want to live our normal life like it was. We’re not your enemies, OK,” Schaff said, his voice breaking. “Don’t treat us like your enemies. Treat us like your fellow members of the community, OK? Please help us.”

The comments drew loud applause from the nearly filled room at the Assumption Community Center.

Unfortunately, passion cannot change the grim reality of the sinkhole crisis. The initial assurances from Texas Brine — that the methane gas coming up through the collapsed cavern which has rendered homes uninhabitable could be drained in a short period of time — have proven to be like the company’s other promises. Completely empty. Officials now concede there is a massive methane deposit that will take years to drain.

The new assessment of the seismic data suggested two probable gas sources for the methane in a shallow aquifer under Bayou Corne. The sources could hold as much as 60 million cubic feet of gas.

These sources could act as kind of deeper reservoirs, feeding more gas into the shallower aquifer above, continuing the potential risk of explosions to the houses in the community.

Three other zones with less likely pathways to the surface could hold another 150 million cubic feet of gas, Marlin said.

These findings contradict Texas Brine’s interpretation of the same data earlier this year, which found that the deep sources of gas had been played out and only gas in the shallower aquifer had to be dealt with.

One local official who was at this week’s meeting estimated that at the current rates, it will take five years to remove all the gas from the aquifer. Five years! That’s incredible.

It’s time for the leadership from Baton Rouge that is still sorely lacking. There needs to be more pressure on Texas Brine to act more quickly and more generously with the local residents who’ve been harmed by the company’s recklessness. Equally as important, the state needs to push for a much more intensive effort to drain the methane from under Bayou Corne in months, not years. Its salt-of-the-earth citizens like Mike Schaff deserve nothing less.

To read more about Tuesday night’s community meeting, check out:

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