What a gas! Flaming faucets as La. sinkhole expands, costs soar


If you care about the environment, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the award-winning anti-fracking documentary, Gasland. And if you did, you surely remember the alarming result of natural gas drilling in rural Pennsylvania: People were able to light their tap water with a match! That’s because of dangerous levels of the highly flammable gas methane polluting their wells.

In Louisiana, we’ve been warning for months of foul odors and dangerous gas pollution in the vicinity of the ever-expanding Bayou Corne sinkhole, where inept regulators and a corrupt corporation have created a huge problem underneath the earth that is now wreaking havoc on the surface.

And now this:

Imagine going to grab a glass of water only to find out what’s brewing inside the cup could burst into flames.

“if i can light the water in my faucet something is wrong,” said Napoleonville resident Ronald Pate.

Pate lives four miles away from a giant sinkhole in Bayou Corne. He says ever since the hole formed he’s noticed something extra in the water.

“I noticed more bubbles in the water,” said Pate. “I mean it wasn’t like that before.”

It’s no laughing matter. Officials from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, one of several agencies that has consistently been behind the 8-ball in this growing crisis, have tested Pate’s drinking water and found not just contamination by methane but also high levels of arsenic and barium. The state has told the Pates not to drink the water — but how many other local residents are drinking in such a high level of toxins without even knowing it?

To recap, officials with the Texas Brine Co. have known — and warned state officials — of potentially dangerous conditions at this abandoned salt cavern some 70 miles west of New Orleans as early as the beginning of 2011. But this summer, as nearby residents complained of bubbling swamp waters, noxious odors and earth tremors, officials did nothing until the massive sinkhole began to form on the edge of town and scores of residents were forced from their homes.

And the sinkhole just doesn’t stop:  

The massive sinkhole plaguing south Louisiana continues to grow, as it has “eaten” another large section of land.

The Assumption Parish Police Jury reported the latest slough in on its blog Tuesday evening.

Officials stated a 20 feet by 80 feet chunk located on the east side of the sinkhole collapsed.  It had been several weeks since the giant sinkhole had claimed more land. About 500 square feet of earth was lost on Oct. 9.

What a tragedy. What’s more, last week residents in the area felt a major new tremor. And to make matters worse, the cost of dealing with this mess — which never should have happened in the first place — keeps going up, up, up, just like the pollution threat in the neighborhood:

A massive sinkhole that has swallowed more than 5 acres of land in Assumption Parish and contaminated an aquifer has cost the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources more than $2 million for response efforts. And there’s no estimate of when the emergency response needs will end.

A department spokesman said the state will seek reimbursement for the spending from Texas Brine Co. LLC, which it blames for causing the sinkhole. But there are no assurances the company will cover the costs.

“Texas Brine has received no accounting of those costs, but when we do, we will address that issue in an appropriate manner,” Sonny Cranch, a company spokesman, said.

Folks, this is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The cost of this fiasco isn’t going to stop rising, and I fear we’re going to be seeing more reports of pollution like at the Tate household before things start getting better down on the bayou. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, residents who’ve been separated from their homes, their possessions and their neighbors for months, as well as those who’ve stayed behind to face growing threats to their water, their air and their personal safety are almost certainly going to need to work with a lawyer to sort out this mess. Because the state’s efforts to look out for the people’s interests are too little…and definitely too late.

To see a local television report about methane pollution of Napoleonville resident Ronald Pate’s water, check out: http://www.fox44.com/news/faucet-water-found-flamable-napoleonville-mans-home

To see a video and read about the latest expansion of the sinkhole, go to: http://www.wafb.com/story/19961911/sinkhole-swallows-20×80-chunk-of-land

To read about the rising costs of the sinkhole for the state of Louisiana, please read: http://www.thetowntalk.com/viewart/20121031/NEWS01/210310325/Assumption-Parish-sinkhole-costs-Louisiana-2-million-far?odyssey=nav|head

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1 comment

  • At least everyone in the country learned about Love Canal. This one sounds like it is even worse than that disaster, but hardly anyone has heard of it. Keep up the good information.

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