Down the Hole
Multimedia reporter Julie Dermansky recently spoke on Labor Radio, a Madison-based station, about her article in the April issue of the Progressive “Down the Hole,” which paints a portrait of devastation of a rural Louisiana community from a fracking-induced sinkhole.
You can check out a passage from the article below, and listen to the interview here.
Bayou Corne, a picturesque fisherman’s paradise seventy-seven miles from new orleans, was once an idyllic spot full of birdsong and spanish moss. Now it’s known as the place with the sinkhole.
In early August of last year, the state of Louisiana called for a mandatory evacuation of the area. A salt cavern, owned by Texas Brine, had experienced a “frack out.” Brine, water, and crude oil were forced out of the cavern, fracturing rock and creating a sinkhole that has now swallowed up more than eight acres and countless cypress trees. The community’s homes are located less than half a mile away, and Highway 70, Bayou Corne’s major road, is threatened.
There had been earlier indications of trouble: mysterious bubbles welling up in a swamp, and small tremors. The bubbles proved to be natural gas that escaped into the Mississippi aquifer as the salt mine began to fail. Residents were concerned. The Department of Natural Resources hadn’t disclosed that it knew of a potential problem, even though Texas Brine alerted it in 2011 that the cavern had failed a mechanical integrity test.
The residents feel let down by the Department of Natural Resources.
John Achee, whose fishing camp is on the bayou, has called for Governor Bobby Jindal to bring in the federal government, accusing state officials of incompetence and corruption.
Jamie Weber, who evacuated her house, says her two-year-old daughter Ariana is desperate to go home.
“It’s all she’s known since birth,” she says. “She’s scared to sleep in her room in the rental we stay in.”
Texas Brine is providing state-mandated compensation to the community but refuses to take responsibility for the sinkhole. The U.S. Geological Survey determined that the cavern collapse caused the tremors, but Sonny Cranch, Texas Brine’s PR representative, suggests that seismic activity may have been the culprit. Texas Brine is building a giant berm around the sinkhole—further insurance that that there will be no pollution, he asserts. MacArthur Fellow Wilma Subra, an environmental chemist who works with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), disagrees. She says it’s too soon to talk about the long-term environmental impact on the swamp. LEAN recently photographed an oil sheen half a mile away from the boomed-off site.
Many in the community want to be bought out by Texas Brine. Instead, they receive a cost-of-living allowance of $3,500 a month. Some are afraid the sinkhole will introduce carcinogens into a community where almost every household already seems to have someone who has cancer or died of the disease. The fumes created by the crude oil on top of the sinkhole cause itchy eyes and respiratory congestion.
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