State orders Texas Brine to take safety steps

Photo provided by Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security -- Drillers clean out the interior Friday of the casing for a vent well south of La. 70 South and east of the Bayou Corne community. The casing, a metal pipe that forms the exterior of the well, was previously driven into the ground in an effort to help relieve gas pressure from an aquifer underneath the Bayou Corne area in Assumption Parish where a sinkhole has formed.
Photo provided by Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security -- Drillers clean out the interior Friday of the casing for a vent well south of La. 70 South and east of the Bayou Corne community. The casing, a metal pipe that forms the exterior of the well, was previously driven into the ground in an effort to help relieve gas pressure from an aquifer underneath the Bayou Corne area in Assumption Parish where a sinkhole has formed.

The Louisiana Office of Conservation on Monday issued a new round of directives to Texas Brine Co. LLC aimed at minimizing risks from the public’s potential exposure to natural gas lingering under property in the Bayou Corne community of Assumption Parish where a large sinkhole has formed.

Conservation Commissioner James Welsh ordered Texas Brine to install in-home methane detectors and upgrade ventilation systems for slab-foundation homes and buildings located above the gas caught in an aquifer and even shallower sediments underground.

Welsh, whose office is part of the state Department of Natural Resources, also ordered Texas Brine to assume responsibility for installing and operating networks of wells — both vent wells and pressure wells — and monitoring equipment under his office’s specifications.

“The steps outlined in this directive will give us an added layer of protection in ensuring public safety and move the response effort closer to bringing the lives of the residents of the Bayou Corne area back to normal,” Welsh said in a news release.

The “vent wells,” some of which are already under construction or built and burning off gas, are designed to remove gas from the Mississippi River Alluvial Aquifer, Welsh said.

The new orders come as momentum seems to be building for gas removal from the aquifer about 100 feet underground after early problems with the clogged wells.

In blog posts Sunday and Monday, parish officials announced that a “vent well” on the south side of La. 70 South and east of Bayou Corne began burning off gas Sunday while another previously clogged well north of La. 70 began accumulating gas Monday.

John Boudreaux, director of the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said that well could start burning gas Tuesday afternoon once equipment is installed.

The two wells were developed under the direction of Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure, which is DNR’s agent in the sinkhole response.

On Nov. 2, working under Office of Conservation orders, Texas Brine separately got a third well south of LA. 70 to burn off gas. It was the first of five vent wells now in existence to remove gas. Flaring virtually continuously since Nov. 5, except for a pause Monday to improve gas flow, that well has flared 224,000 cubic feet of gas, Cranch estimated.

Two other clogged wells, developed under the direction of Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure, are located north of La. 70 and east of Bayou Corne and south of La. 70 and west of Bayou Corne.

Also Tuesday, DNR and parish officials will be among those present at a 7 p.m. meeting at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church hall, 3304 La. 70, Pierre Part, to discuss the latest developments with the sinkhole response.

Sonny Cranch, spokesman for Houston-based Texas Brine, said Monday the company is reviewing the order from Welsh and will act appropriately.

While discovery of the sinkhole on Aug. 3 between Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou prompted parish officials to order the evacuation of 150 homes, the discovery later of gas underground has added to the reasons to keep the order in place, parish officials have said.

On Thursday, the state Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell sent Texas Brine and Occidental Chemical Corp. a formal demand letter to pay state agencies’ costs for their response to the sinkhole and related effects.

DNR spokesman Patrick Courreges confirmed Monday that the letter is an indication that Texas Brine is viewed as the legally responsible party for the incident.

Requiring the company to assume responsibility for the wells and monitoring equipment is standard procedure for such a finding, he said.

DNR and private industry scientists have said they believe a Texas Brine-owned salt cavern inside the Napoleonville Dome had a wall breach several thousand feet underground. That failure, near the western edge of the salt dome, set off a chain of events that reportedly caused the sinkhole and released toward the surface oil and gas naturally trapped in pockets along the side of the salt dome.

Welsh’s order Monday comes in addition to a joint effort between his office and the state Department of Environmental Quality, announced Wednesday, to offer in-home air testing for area residents. That announcement followed the discovery that five of 18 geoprobes, shallow wells sunken throughout the Bayou Corne area in response to the sinkhole, found gas at 20 to 40 feet underground.