Sinkhole commission tells crowd it needs more data

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Bob Deaton, a Bayou Corne resident, asks a question Wednesday during a public meeting held in Napoleonville to address issues involving the northern Assumption Parish sinkhole.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Bob Deaton, a Bayou Corne resident, asks a question Wednesday during a public meeting held in Napoleonville to address issues involving the northern Assumption Parish sinkhole.

Investigating panel says no time frame yet

Members of the Blue Ribbon Commission charged with investigating the long-term stability and safety of the area around the Assumption Parish sinkhole need more data before any recommendations will be forthcoming, officials said Wednesday.

The members, experts from around the world, visited the now more than 15-acre sinkhole and gathered in work sessions on it this week.

During a community meeting Wednesday before more than 250 people at the Assumption Parish Community Center, members showed six tasks each to establish safety benchmarks regarding stability around the sinkhole and the migration and removal of gas under the area.

Each of those tasks called for new actions or data, much of it yet to be collected. The members did not provide specific timelines to gather that information or do that work.

When asked about time frames, Perry Franklin, moderator for the group, said some of the data exists and must be provided, but other data must be collected. State and parish officials will be meeting starting Thursday to review what Franklin called a “laundry list” of needs.

When pressed on how long this process might take, Franklin said the group is still in the data harvesting stage.

“It would be premature for anyone to stand here today and say we’re six months, nine months, one month, a year out from any type of a situation,” Franklin said.

The panel is focused on three areas to create criteria to evaluate long-term stability: levels of shallow gas in the aquifer, the stability on the western side of Napoleonville Dome and the management and containment of the sinkhole.

The Texas Brine Co. salt dome cavern that failed last year, scientists have reported, resulted in emergence of the swampland sinkhole in August and triggered tremors and the release of crude oil and natural gas, which is now in an aquifer under the community.

As of Friday, about 350 people shall have been under a mandatory evacuation order for nine months in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities.

Later in Wednesday’s meeting, Texas Brine officials presented their interpretation of 3-D seismic data of the subsurface that they contended resulted in one of the most highly detailed surveys of its kind on the Gulf Coast.

“What we found is what we think is a very positive story,” said Mark Cartwright, president of United Brine Services, a Texas Brine subsidiary.

Cartwright then showed the audience images that he said suggested that there were no voids that posed risks of gas releases or major new collapses, that the Napoleonville Dome appeared to be stable and that the source of gas appears to be played out.

These have been major concerns of scientists working for the Office of Conservation on the sinkhole.

This presentation later provoked criticism from some residents who said flatly they did not trust Texas Brine.

Norm Schewe, 74, a Baton Rouge resident who owns a camp in Bayou Corne, recounted how Texas Brine had asserted there were no problems with the Texas Brine cavern that failed going back to the early 1980s, when it was permitted, and is saying there is no problem now.

“Why should I believe you now when you didn’t know what you were talking about” in the past, he asked.

Cartwright responded, “You don’t have to believe us.” He added that given the new data, he hoped Schewe could come to his own conclusion.

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources has its own expert reviewing the raw data from Texas Brine’s recent survey but answers are not expected until mid-June, according to a presentation Wednesday.

Gary Metrejean, 48, who is a Bayou Corne evacuee, asked whether the Texas Brine data could be trusted to be actually from the area under Bayou Corne or be somehow faked or from another area.

Gary Hecox, who is a commissioner and a hydrogeologist for CB&I and who has been working on the sinkhole emergency for months, said the data was gathered by a world-class outfit, Boone Geophysical, and early processing by the state’s expert, Don Marlin, shows it is of the area.

Schewe also called into question the motivations of the commissioners, whom he said were working on the project for their credentials when the people of Bayou Corne would be left dealing with Texas Brine years later.

Hecox took exception.

“This is a group of world-class scientists who are here to help the people of Bayou Corne,” Hecox said.