Approximately 300 people evacuated from their Louisiana homes in early August, many forced to spend Thanksgiving in hotels or campgrounds, are still looking for answers and wondering when, or if, they will ever be able to return home.
In a story that has been largely ignored by the national media, residents in a small rural community in Assumption Parish, LA., located approximately 45 miles south of Baton Rogue, began to notice strange bubbles rising to the surface of some of the area's bayous late this past spring. Residents said the water appeared to be boiling.
Rapture is Imminent
Bubbles rise to the surface of bayous in Assumption Parish Louisiana.
Soon after the bubbles were reported, several small earthquakes hit the area. Desperate for answers as to what was happening, residents appealed to state officials, asking them to investigate the strange occurrences. The state began an investigation, but could not offer a definitive cause for the bubbles or earthquakes.
On June 26th, officials speculated that the bubbles were caused by a pipeline leak or a potential leak from an adjacent storage cavern. According to WFAB officials were taking daily readings of all the areas experiencing the bubbles. They determined that there was no risk of fire or explosion and ruled that the waterways were safe for boat traffic.
On July 2nd, officials with the LA Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) and the LA Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) used infrared systems to look at abandoned well sites to see if they were responsible for leaks. Officials never positively located the source of the bubbles, nor could they account for the earthquake tremors.
Then, on August 3rd, a sinkhole appeared in the area, swallowing up a 200 foot in diameter area of land. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jinda issued a press release declaring a state of emergency for the area. It was then that approximately 300 residents of more than 150 homes located about a half-mile from the sinkhole were ordered to evacuate.
Louisiana Governors Office
Sinkhole in Assumption Parish
Seventy-five days after residents first reported the appearance of bubbles, residents were still looking for answers. State officials believed that mining conducted by Texas Brine, an oil and gas service company in the area, was responsible for the occurrences. John Boudreaux, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness for Assumption County, told WAFB:
"We would like everyone please give us patience. It's going to be a long process but we commit that we continue to be here throughout the process until the investigation is over and the mitigation is complete."
Geologists and officials with various state agencies finally surmised that a Texas Brine production cavern below Bayou Corne had collapsed from the side, filling with rock, oil and gas. They believed a build up of pressure in a cavern caused a "frack out", a natural occurrence similar to the glowingly controversial drilling technique called "fracking".
The dangers of fracking are becoming more widely reported. In December of 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report acknowledging that fracking was responsible for poisons, including the carcinogen benzene, in the groundwater of a central Wyoming community. The August 2011 earthquake that shook Washington DC had some scientists saying it was linked to linked to fracking operations in West Virginia.
In April of this year, Bloomberg reported that scientific evidence was pointing to fracking as being the possible cause of earthquakes in other areas of the United States where such natural events were rare.
A United States Geological Survey report states:
"Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada. The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the filling of large reservoirs for water supplies."
In October, three earthquakes rattled neighborhoods in a suburb west of Dallas. Geophysicist said the earthquakes, which are rarely seen in the area, appeared to be linked to the disposal of waste-water from local hydraulic fracturing operations.
The Danger Continues
Between August 3rd and December 9th, the sinkhole in Assumption Parish has continued to grow. On October 9th, approximately 500 square feet of land was swallowed up by the sinkhole. An estimated 1,600 square feet of land was consumed by the sinkhole on October 30th. On Tuesday, the sinkhole grew by another 600 feet.
In addition to the growing sinkhole, officials in Assumption Parish reported increased seismic activity around the sinkhole on November 21st. That same day, officials found that Hydrogen Sulfide, a poisonous and flammable gas, was being released from vent wells at the sinkhole.
Bayou Corne Sinkhole
September 14th photo of Bayou Corne Sinkhole in Louisiana
Inept Government or Cover-up?
In 2011, Texas Brine sent a letter to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) notifying them that the cavern now believed to be responsible for the sinkhole had failed a "mechanical integrity test". Texas Brine agreed to cap and shut down the well and DNR decided no additional monitoring was needed on their part. Once the bubbling began more than 6 months ago, state regulators either somehow did not connect the Texas Brine letter to the strange occurrences, or they simply chose to ignore any possible link.
Mike Ludwig, a reporter with Truthout, calls the Bayou Corne sinkhole "an unprecedented environmental disaster" and points out that other than local newscasts, the sinkhole has made few headlines, leading some to wonder if officials are trying to cover-up the incidents.
Bayou Corne Sinkhole
Officials are forced to use airboats to examine Bayou Corne Sinkhole
The Human Toll
While officials with Texas Brine and various government agencies scrabble to try and stop the sinkhole from growing, residents in the area continue to suffer, not knowing if they will ever be able to return to their homes again. Cathy Simoneaux and her husband, two of the evacuees, have been staying in a camper trailer. She told NBC33:
"I feel like it's not going to be home anymore. I feel like a nomad all of a sudden. I don't know where I am going to go, and what's going to happen."
Brant Smart has been living at an outdoor camp in Mississippi since he was ordered to evacuate his home. In September, he said he, his wife, their 15-year-old child and 2 dogs were saying in a 5 wheel camper.
With residents already being forced to spend Thanksgiving away from their homes, the arrival of the Christmas holiday, as well as a lack of answers as to when they can return to their homes, makes their continued plight all the more heartbreaking.
Mary Lee Orr, Executive Director of Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), told WWL:
"It is heartbreaking...to see folks who have both retired there, and thought they had their little piece of heaven right there, and the young families who have children who are unable to be there. It's a very disturbing situation to see and to see the emotional toll that it is taking on the people."