BAYOU CORNE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was in Bayou Corne Monday afternoon to hold a news conference on the current status of the giant sinkhole in Grand Bayou.
Texas Brine owns the salt cavern that caused the massive sinkhole in Grand Bayou in June 2012. Ten days ago, there were four breaches in the containment berm surrounding the sinkhole. The breaches were caused by heavy rain in the area. Fortunately, water was pouring into the sinkhole and not out of it. Officials were able to repair the breaches and no contamination of surrounding swamps and bayous was reported.
During the news conference Monday, Jindal issued an executive order instructing the Commissioner of Conservation to conduct a complete review of the permits issued to Texas Brine in connection with its operations of salt cavern wells in Assumption Parish, as well as all permits issued to Texas Brine throughout the state.
The review is to determine if Texas Brine's "current financial condition indicate that such permit(s) should be modified, revoked and reissued, or terminated."
In a statement released after the news conference, Governor Jindal said, "It has become clear that Texas Brine is trying to run out the clock on the citizens of Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou by hiding behind insurance companies, lawyers and lobbyists. That is unacceptable. Texas Brine is responsible for the sinkhole, and they need to clean up the mess they've made and do right by the people of Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou by issuing long overdue settlement offers.
"We've heard every excuse in the book, and enough is enough. Texas Brine needs to offer settlements to the residents who want them, and their failure to do so brings into serious question the company's ability to operate in Louisiana moving forward."
Additionally, Governor Jindal has instructed all departments, commissions, boards, offices, entities, agencies, and officers of the State of Louisiana—and any local agencies involved in the sinkhole response—to review and determine whether Texas Brine remains capable of meeting its regulatory obligations.
The sinkhole grew by three acres last month, bringing its total size to about 15 acres.
It has been nine months since hundreds living near the giant sinkhole were forced from their homes.
Bubbles were spotted in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou in June 2012. Two months later, the ground opened up and left a nine-acre sinkhole. Residents were evacuated and have been for the past seven months. Most affected residents began receiving weekly checks from Texas-Brine in the amount of $875 per week.
On March 13, Texas-Brine, the Houston based company that owns the salt dome that caused the sinkhole, announced it would begin assessing the homes and offering buyouts and settlements for the 350 people evacuated.
To date, no buyouts have been offered. As of May 16th, Texas Brine has indicated that 110 residents have requested settlement forms; 102 residents have submitted claim information sheets; 97 properties have been inspected; and five properties remain to be inspected.
Texas Brine had committed to issuing settlement offers within 45 days of property inspections. Today, 66 inspected properties have reached the 45-day window. 85 properties will be on the 45th day since inspection on Friday, May 24th, and 87 properties will be on the 45th day since inspection on May 31st.
Sonny Cranch, the spokesman for Texas Brine, says they found out in the eleventh hour their insurance carriers were not in support of the buyout process.
In a letter to residents, the company says: "Texas Brine was recently informed that its excess insurance providers have failed to provide final approval to support this process. While reviewing its legal options, Texas Brine continues to work with the providers to resolve outstanding issues in an attempt to get the settlement offers into the hands of the residents as soon as possible. At this point, we are unable to predict when such agreements with the carriers may be reached, but hope it will occur in the near future."
Cranch says they do want to resolve the problem, but he is not sure when that will happen.
"That's something being discussed between our attorneys and their attorneys," Cranch said.
WHEREAS, pursuant to the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act, R.S. 29:721, et seq., a state of emergency was declared through Proclamation No. 82 BJ 2012 (Threat of Subsidence and Subsurface Instability) due to the rapid development of a sinkhole, several acres in size, which threatened and continues to threaten nearby residents in the vicinity of Bayou Corne, in Assumption Parish; and
WHEREAS, the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act, R.S. 29:721, et seq., confers upon the Governor of the State of Louisiana emergency powers to deal with emergencies and disasters, including those caused by fire, flood, earthquake or other natural or man-made causes, to ensure that preparations of this state will be adequate to deal with such emergencies or disasters, and to preserve the lives and property of the citizens of the State of Louisiana; and
WHEREAS, the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act, R.S. 29:721, et seq., also confers upon the Governor of the State of Louisiana the authority to issue executive orders, proclamations, and issue, amend, or rescind regulations in order to meet the dangers to the state and people presented by emergencies or disasters; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Natural Resources, Office of Conservation, maintains statutory jurisdiction and authority to regulate the exploration and conservation of oil, gas, and other minerals pursuant to R.S. 30:1 et seq. and administrative rules promulgated pursuant thereto, through means including the issuance, review, and revocation of permitted activities; and
WHEREAS, when a permitted activity poses a threat or creates harm to the environmental quality of the State, the Department of Natural Resources, Office of Conservation is aided by additional state and federal agencies charged with the protection, response, and recovery of the State's environmental quality; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to the mineral conservation laws of Louisiana, R.S. 30:1 et seq., a declaration of emergency was issued on August 3, 2012 by the Department of Natural Resources, Office of Conservation, ordering Texas Brine Company, LLC ("Texas Brine") to undertake all necessary and appropriate actions to protect against damage to the environment and prevent threats to public safety associated with its operation of a salt dome facility in the vicinity of Section 40, Township 12 South, Range 13 East, in Assumption Parish; and
WHEREAS, over the following months, it became necessary for the Department of Natural Resources, Office of Conservation, to issue a multitude of additional emergency declarations, directives, compliance orders, and penalties to compel Texas Brine to effectuate the express purpose of the August 3, 2013 emergency declaration – protect against damage to the environment and prevent threats to public safety; and
WHEREAS, on March 14, 2013, Texas Brine officials met with State and local officials and pledged to extend settlement offers over the following several weeks, including buyouts, to residents forced to evacuate their homes as a result of the threat posed by the sinkhole at Bayou Corne, and further agreed to reimburse local and state officials for the response costs associated with this incident; and
WHEREAS, as of this date, Texas Brine has missed multiple deadlines to extend these settlement offers and no such buyouts have occurred, calling into question the willingness of Texas Brine to fulfill its pledge to the residents of Bayou Corne and others impacted by its operations, the company's financial ability to meet the obligations created by its salt dome operations in Assumption Parish, and the adequacy of its insurance coverage for its operations in Assumption Parish and elsewhere at any of its other permitted sites in the State of Louisiana; and
NOW THEREFORE, I, Bobby Jindal, Governor of the State of Louisiana, by virtue of the authority vested by the Constitution and the laws of the State of Louisiana, do hereby order and direct as follows:
SECTION 1: The Commissioner of Conservation shall conduct a complete review of the permits issued to Texas Brine in connection with its operations of salt cavern wells in the vicinity of Section 40, Township 12 South, Range 13 East, in Assumption Parish, as well as all permits issued to Texas Brine throughout the State, in order to determine if Texas Brine's current financial condition indicates that such permit(s) should be modified, revoked and reissued, or terminated.
SECTION 2: All departments, commissions, boards, offices, entities, agencies, and officers of the State of Louisiana, or any political subdivision thereof with any regulatory program implicated by the emergency situation near Bayou Corne in Assumption Parish, shall review to determine whether Texas Brine remains capable of meeting its regulatory obligations. At a minimum, this review shall include the following potential regulatory requirements in light of current conditions at the sinkhole:
A. The Louisiana Hazardous Waste Management Program;
B. NPDES Program under the Clean Water Act;
C. Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program;
D. Exploration and Production Waste Management Program;
E. Dredge or fill permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act; and
F. Other relevant environmental permitting and regulatory requirements, including, but not limited to any state permits issued under the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program or the Louisiana Natural and Scenic Streams System;
SECTION 3: In light of Texas Brine's inability to meet its previous commitments, the Commissioner of Conservation shall conduct a review of the ongoing financial ability of Texas Brine to meet the financial obligations resulting from its salt dome operations in Assumption Parish and elsewhere at any of its other permitted sites in the State of Louisiana, as well as the adequacy of its insurance coverage for the company's operations in Assumption Parish and elsewhere at any of its other permitted sites in the State of Louisiana.
SECTION 4: All departments, commissions, boards, offices, entities, agencies, and officers of the State of Louisiana, or any political subdivision thereof, are authorized and directed to cooperate in the implementation of the provisions of this Order.
SECTION 5: This Order is effective upon signature and shall remain in effect until amended, modified, terminated or rescinded by the Governor, or terminated by operation of law.