Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Bad Day At The Salt Mine

From Boudreaux's backyard you can see the entrance to Texas Brine. The firm operates several salt wells here in Assumption Parish , injecting water into an underground salt dome to leach out brine. The sodium chloride is used by the nearby petrochemical industries that line the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
"This is the sinkhole," says Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch. He looks out over what appears to be a lake surrounded by swamp land and a fresh earthen levee. It was all swamp before Aug. 3, the morning workers discovered the sinkhole.
One day the area was swamp, he says, and the next "there's nothing, except debris, floating vegetative matter, and as it turned out, there was some liquid hydrocarbon that had risen to the surface."
That was crude oil and natural gas bubbling up from below ground. It was a mystery at first, but now authorities say an abandoned salt cavern collapsed, shifting the rock and salt formations deep below, causing the sinkhole above and unleashing hydrocarbons into the ground water aquifer up to two miles from the site.
The sinkhole is still growing. Monitoring reveals continuing shifting underground and a possible problem at a second cavern.
The state has ordered Texas Brine to drill 30 of these natural gas wells around Bayou Corne.
Patrick Courreges with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources says the escaping methane poses a danger.
"Want to get that out so that you don't have the risk of homes with enclosed spaces having a concentration of gas buildup that could be flammable or explosive," Courreges says.
Courreges says Texas Brine had plugged and abandoned this salt mine in 2010 after integrity problems. And state rules at the time did not require any continued monitoring. Now scientists have discovered the side wall of the salt cavern collapsed, causing tremors, the sinkhole and oil and gas leaks. Courreges says they've yet to find a roadmap for dealing with this unique set of problems.
I'm sure pesky regulations would have just discouraged the company from sucking the town down into the ground. 

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