Texas Brine official says giant Louisiana sinkhole could double in size

Mark Cartwright, president of United Brine, explaining nature of slough in at sinkhole
Mark Cartwright, president of United Brine, explaining nature of slough in at sinkhole

BAYOU CORNE, LA (WAFB) - Life in the community of Bayou Corne has been anything but normal since a giant sinkhole opened up. One official says the surface of the sinkhole could double in size. Right now, it is at 26 acres.

Residents have moved away from the place they once called home. Their frustrations and fears still planted on their properties.

"We have a geoprobe in the front yard. We have a geoprobe in the backyard, very active," said resident Carla Alleman.

Alleman and her neighbors live just a couple thousand feet from the sinkhole. This is what is going on in their backyards more than a year after they were evacuated from their homes. Scientists are monitoring the site on foot and by air boat, keeping constant watch over the growing sinkhole.

"My husband and I struggle because we don't know where to go because this was it. This was it," said Candy Blanchard.

President of United Brine, a subsidiary of Texas Brine, Mark Cartwright, explains what it looked like more than a year ago, just hours after the sinkhole began growing.

"I got to the site within about five hours of when it actually developed and at that time it was about 300 feet in diameter," Cartwright said.

The sinkhole has grown into a large lake. Scientists are now working on containing the slurry as they continue to release gas from the aquifer.

"I think to the extent a sinkhole can be controlled we do have it under control," said Cartwright.

The sinkhole is at 26 acres right now. Cartwright says the surface could get to 50 acres but the good news is it is moving in a southwest pattern, which is away from homes and the community.

"I think we're relatively close to matching the volume inside the cavern with the volume we see at the surface. But because of precipitous edges, there will be come continued sloughing," said Cartwright.

Cartwright says while there has been no massive release of gas in the area, he admits the sinkhole event has caused additional discharge. However, he says he is confident the plan the community has put into motion will go offer some relief. As for the communities, he says their concerns have not gone unnoticed.

"I understand it. It's part of the situation and I would hope that soon those signs will come down and we'll get to some resolution - people can feel comfortable again," said Cartwright.

The majority of the homeowners who live in Bayou Corne have agreed to sell their properties to Texas Brine. The company says by the end of the week, they will close on 43 out of the 65 who have agreed to settle.

History of the sinkhole

The sinkhole opened up in August 2012 and was roughly 1/24 of the size it is now. The sinkhole formed when an underground salt cavern collapsed.

In the past, seismic activity is reported, then the sinkhole burps up debris and then a slough-in happens. Burps occur when air and gas from deep in the sinkhole bubbles up. It can cause debris and an oily substance to float to the top. A slough-in is when the sinkhole swallows trees and land that is on the edge of the sinkhole.

Berms were placed around the sinkhole shortly after it opened up to keep the oily, debris filled water contained to the sinkhole area so it would not contaminate the area bayous.

It has more than a year 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 what is now a 24-acre sinkhole. Residents were evacuated and the most affected residents began receiving weekly checks from Texas-Brine in the amount of $875 per week. Texas Brine owns the salt cavern that collapsed, causing the sinkhole.

On August 2, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell announced the state will be suing Texas Brine for environmental damages caused by the failed Texas Brine cavern.

Parish and Texas Brine officials agree the situation is far from over. 3D seismic surveys show the sinkhole itself it beginning to slow and stabilize, but the recovery is focused on another danger; natural gas gathering underneath a nearby aquifer.

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