Meet the Town That's Being Swallowed by a Sinkhole
August 22, 2013 5:23 PM   Subscribe

"One night in August 2012, after months of unexplained seismic activity and mysterious bubbling on the bayou, a sinkhole opened up on a plot of land leased by the petrochemical company Texas Brine, forcing an immediate evacuation of Bayou Corne's 350 residents—an exodus that still has no end in sight."

Post title from the linked Mother Jones article. Hat tip to elizardbits.
posted by maxwelton (31 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here is another video showing trees being swallowed up as the sink hole expands.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:33 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I saw this earlier today and was agog and aghast.
posted by rtha at 5:34 PM on August 22, 2013


That interstitial ad with Mitch McConnell's face was a bit much when I haven't been up very long.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:37 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently, the sinkhole is at least 750 feet deep.

As a matter of perspective, you could put the entirety of San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid building in it, and only see the top 10th of the building sticking out.
posted by markkraft at 5:39 PM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I watched that video last night too Seymour Zamboni. That's some scary Roland Emmerich-level shit.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:43 PM on August 22, 2013


Wow, I did not think anything in the Louisiana wetlands was 750 feet deep.

This horrifies me.

Bayou Corne is about 50 miles from my hometown.
posted by Sara C. at 5:56 PM on August 22, 2013


This evokes the nightmares I used to have about Centralia. This is just a whole other level of horror.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:01 PM on August 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


But, well, I always thought the Centralia horror was because it was a fire that would burn for centuries, because it was so deep down that we could never put it out (though maybe we'll invent something to do so before those centuries are up).

This land always had the salt dome underneath it; we decided it was ok to drill and frack anyway; and it collapsed because of miscalculations/human greed/stupidity. It's sad to see a sinkhole take a town, for sure, and I feel for the residents, but it's not an eldritch horror. There is a limit to how deep the sinkhole will go (though if we drill on lots more salt domes, guess we'll see whether they can turn the whole damn state into one). It's terrible in the same way that strip mining is terrible, humans tearing up the ground stupidly to get at what we want and damn the consequences. I can see why nearby residents like Sara C would be worried, because we clearly are dumb as fuck about what really happens below ground. I live in the middle of fracking, I can see wells and pump stations from every point along my daily drive. We don't have salt domes in this part of Texas, so we just worry about explosions and toxic gases instead.

I may be a little burned out and bitter about the whole thing.
posted by emjaybee at 6:10 PM on August 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


On November 20, 1980, when the disaster took place, the Diamond Crystal Salt Company operated the Jefferson Island salt mine under the lake, while a Texaco oil rig drilled down from the surface of the lake searching for petroleum. Due to a miscalculation, the 14-inch (36 cm) drill bit entered the mine, starting a chain of events which turned an almost 10-foot (3.0 m) deep freshwater lake into a salt water lake with a deep hole.

Lake Prigneur

posted by bukvich at 6:29 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


God damn idiots.
posted by notsnot at 6:31 PM on August 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well if they wanted to have a town they shouldnt've have put it upon Suddently valuable natural resources /hamburger.
posted by The Whelk at 6:38 PM on August 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I sure hope the mining companies never figure out a way to extract energy from the burnt-out husks of people's hopes and dreams.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:16 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's called capitalism.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:17 PM on August 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


1) Buy up cheap homes on top of salt domes.
2) Wait for the energy companies to cause a disaster.
3) Accept the inflated buyout price offered by the corporation to forestall a lawsuit.
4) Profit!

It's a cunning plan. It cannot fail.
posted by Justinian at 7:17 PM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bayou Corne is about 50 miles from my hometown.

Keep checking.
posted by hal9k at 7:26 PM on August 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


turbid dahlia: "I sure hope the mining companies never figure out a way to extract energy from the burnt-out husks of people's hopes and dreams."

Looks like they already have.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:31 PM on August 22, 2013


3) Accept the inflated buyout price offered by the corporation to forestall a lawsuit.

That's an operating assumption I would never make after seeing "tort reform" here in Texas. This is the sort of thing I expect to see classified as a natural disaster even when it's clearly not.
posted by immlass at 7:34 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]




but it's not an eldritch horror.

I don't know, I'm beginning to think I should reread some Lovecraft, and just replace the ancient ones and those that can drive one to insanity with a mere glance with the sociopathy that is the modern corporate environment.

I bet it is even scarier.
posted by quin at 8:23 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Curses! I was putting together links for this post earlier today in hopes of putting a post together. But yeah, this is some messed up shit. I was clued into it with the disappearing trees video, as it seems most people were. Just *gulp* gone. It's been going on for a year and I only heard about it today because of the "WTF, why did those trees just disappear?" video, trying to figure out if that was some natural phenomenon that I just never heard about. Never mind that it is a huge disaster, it wasn't talked about until there was some cool video. It's not just the sinkhole either, it's the oil and gas being released into the environment from the breach.

This is yet another example where no matter what the payout is, the company in question will not pay the full cost of the disaster they created. It happens over and over and over again. Companies pillage, you and I pay the price of the cleanup, of the loss of economic interest. Oh sure, Texas Brine will pay something, but it won't come close to the actual cost of the problem they caused.

The money quote from the Mother Jones article:
"When Texas Brine applied for a permit to expand Oxy3 in 2010, the company pressure-tested the cavern as mandated by the state, but it was unable to build up the requisite pressure, let alone sustain it. "At this time, a breach out of the salt dome appears possible," Mark Cartwright, a Texas Brine executive, notified the state's Department of Natural Resources. The DNR asked Texas Brine to "plug and abandon" the well. "

And yet they didn't. They ignored this and went on with what they were doing, until it collapsed. How many times are we going to find the memos and messages where companies knew there was a danger, and still kept with operations that led to a disaster.

I think we need a law that is the opposite of double jeopardy for businesses. That they can be fined, charged, sued immediately after a disaster (as they usually are) and then after a period of x years, they are open to further litigation due to the long term problems we didn't see right away. No dissolving and reincorporating, no taking the money and running, every last red cent is followed and reclaimed if additional damages are awarded.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:31 PM on August 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


That reminds me, I have to remember to put the old asparagus down the garbage disposal tonight.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:07 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


$10 someone tries to count this as a created wetland in the next 3 years.

Heck, make that $100.
posted by fshgrl at 9:16 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


From beneath you it devours.
posted by yoink at 9:19 PM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've got an addendum to my proposal. I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this, but here goes; since corporations are now people, the corporation should be imprisoned if a criminal act was committed and they found guilty. What is "imprisonment" for a corporation? I haven't decided yet, but I'm thinking all profits for x years go to the government or even as tax rebates to individuals. Executives in the company have the choice of staying and working for the company at either the base wage of their lowest paid employees, or going to traditional prison for the duration. In essence, a quasi-nationalisation for the duration of the company's sentence. There can be a new sort of warden who oversees business to ensure the heads of the company won't tank it out of spite.

And to answer your question, no, I have not thought this through and the logistics are probably terrible. But there has got to be SOMETHING lasting that can be done to corporations that make fuckups this big, especially when there is a trail of malfeasance. Which there usually is.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:57 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I keep getting tripped up on

a side wall collapse—"something regulators and briners had previously considered impossible—highlighting, once again, how poorly understood the geology of salt caverns truly is,"

...because how on earth could they have considered that utterly impossible? Rare, experientially, I could buy. But nobody using science would responsibly rule something like that impossible.
posted by dhartung at 1:01 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Texas Brine's Oxy3 cavern, one of 53 in the Napoleonville Dome and one of six operated by the company, is more than a mile below the surface. At that depth, 3-D seismic mapping is both time-consuming and expensive, and as a consequence, injection-mining companies often have only a foggy—and outdated—idea of what their mines really look like. "Everybody wants to do it within a certain budget and a certain time frame," explains Jim La­Moreaux, a hydrologist who organizes an annual conference on salt-cavern-caused sinkholes. In some cases, he says, it's possible that companies cut corners and fail to commission the proper studies.

I work in the seismic mapping field, and the second sentence is just a big sorry excuse from Texas Brine. First off it's not that hard to accurately map depths down to 10 miles, and they've been doing so since the 70s fairly accurately. However, it is very hard to accurately map salt domes, but really only to image the area underneath the dome, the edge of it should be fairly clear even if you only did two short 2-D seismic surveys in the area where you thought it was.

Second, the sort of 3-D seismic mapping that the big oil companies would be paying for is expensive, but there's absolutely middle ground between the best technology available today, and not having any surveys since the 80s. Furthermore, other oil companies do surveys for their own use all the time, which they then will lease out to other companies to look at; just glancing in our database I've seen 2 more current 2-D surveys that go through the Bayou Corne area more current than 1982, and there's surely a few more than that. Texas Brine was either too cheap to lease out those maps, in which case I guess it makes sense they couldn't afford a newer survey (I honestly don't know how much these cost these days, thats not my department, but its definitely not prohibitive for a company of their size, and I'm sure it's less than that class action lawsuit will cost them), or they were too lazy and confident that nothing would go wrong. Guess which way I'm leaning on that one...
posted by DynamiteToast at 7:57 AM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


But, well, I always thought the Centralia horror was because it was a fire that would burn for centuries, because it was so deep down that we could never put it out (though maybe we'll invent something to do so before those centuries are up).

That and carbon monoxide seeped into people basements, sinkholes appeared all over, and the entire town had to be abandoned (though last I recall some stragglers remained) on account of a combination of greed and negligence. As a little kid in the Pennsylvania mountains, it was a terrifying prospect, and my imagination would conjure up an image of a town just slowly sinking into a smoky pit of fire. I'm just saying that the parallels touch on a very visceral fear of mine, while at the same time managing to be several degrees more horrible.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:28 AM on August 23, 2013


Would love to see the Libertarian response to this.
posted by Sublimity at 9:43 AM on August 23, 2013


No dissolving and reincorporating, no taking the money and running, every last red cent is followed and reclaimed if additional damages are awarded.

The trick would to make all company shareholders personally morally, ethically and financially liable for all damage their company does. Take away everything they have and make them work in the communities the company has destroyed. Cos fuck em.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 12:23 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's not feasible. Most shareholders are just regular folks with money in a company IRA or 401k or pension plan. Or mutual funds. Or...
posted by Justinian at 4:53 PM on August 23, 2013


Would love to see the Libertarian response to this.

"Suck it, poors."
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:06 PM on August 23, 2013


« Older Step two: Excitedly state the facts   |   Another scandal in academic psychology Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments