The oil sheen-coated sinkhole, photographed over the weekend by nonprofit On Wings of Care.

On Wings of CareThe oil-sheen-coated sinkhole, photographed over the weekend by nonprofit On Wings of Care. 

A sinkhole triggered in Louisiana by the fossil fuel industry grew to 12 acres over the weekend, and it appears that hundreds of displaced nearby residents will never be able to return to their homes.

The sinkhole has been growing since it appeared in August. It was caused by a salt mining operation that sucked brine out from beneath the Assumption Parish marsh and piped it to nearby petrochemical facilities. Houston-based Texas Brine had apparently excavated too close to the surface, and officials are worried that a similar fate could befall another Texas Brine salt mining site nearby.

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Salt is used by the oil industry to stabilize the earth around drilled wells. Emptied salt domes are also used to store oil, gas, and other petrochemicals.

Natural gas is belching out of the sinkhole and the waters that have filled it are covered with a rainbow slick of oil. Officials are burning the gas as it escapes to try to prevent an explosion.

From the Daily Comet:

About 350 people living in the area have been under an evacuation order and many of them displaced for more than seven months, with no end in sight. Texas Brine officials said they were beginning to contact residents Monday to discuss buyouts and settlement offers for the 150 homes.

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After months of silence on the issue, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) recently began discussing it at press conferences, and last night he met privately with affected residents. From The Times-Picayune:

Jindal, who met with the residents of Bayou Corne in a closed-door meeting around 2 p.m., … re-emphasized Texas Brine Co. LLC will be offering voluntary buyouts to locals looking to move on with their lives.

“Texas Brine is responsible for the sinkhole. We’ve been committed to holding them accountable. After months of discussions, after meeting with them last week, the company has finally agreed to start this process,” Jindal said.

The sinkhole has triggered fresh concerns about the practice of salt mining in Louisiana, where similar accidents have happened in the past. Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal recounted a 1980 accident for KATC:

November 20, 1980 is a day Sheriff Louis Ackal will never forget. He was Captain of Louisiana State Police Troop-I when a miscalculation sent an oil rig’s drill directly into the salt mine instead of under the lake, collapsing the Jefferson Salt Mine.

“There was just swirls of mud, giant oak trees were being sucked down like a hand pulling them into the mud,” said Ackal.

Ackal is worried a similar accident could play out at another salt-mine project in the state, where AGL Resources wants to expand natural-gas storage caverns under Lake Peigneur:

Ackal is urging Governor Bobby Jindal to intervene. He wants proof the dome is safe, and wants answers to why bubbling happens sporadically.

“Whatever monies it is paying the State of Louisiana to use that dome is not worth a damn penny of it if it’s going to endanger the lives and property of the people that live out there,” said Ackal.

Maybe one day the gas and oil industry will learn from past mistakes. But not today.

This video shows the Assumption Parish sinkhole and surrounding homes. It was filmed from a light airplane over the weekend by nonprofit On Wings of Care:

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