A Texas company is bringing in geologists and geo-mechanical experts Monday morning to begin examining an inactive salt mine cavern in Assumption Parish to see if it is the cause of a massive sinkhole and natural gas bubbles recently found in two bayous.
Louisiana Department of Natural Resources officials said they believe the inactive and plugged salt cavern well owned by Texas Brine Co. LLC of Houston may have failed and could be the cause of the sinkhole that formed overnight Thursday, leaving behind a large slurry.
The slurry area is on Texas Brine’s 40-acre facility on the south side of La. 70.
The cavern also could be the cause of natural gas releases that have bubbled to the surface in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou for more than two months, DNR officials said Friday.
The geologists and other experts along with state and federal officials will determine the best way “to acquire an accurate subsurface image of what’s occurring within that area,” Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch said Sunday.
The experts and special imaging equipment were on their way to Louisiana on Sunday, Cranch said.
Cranch said it is not known how long acquiring the image will take.
“Texas Brine is as interested in knowing what’s going on down below as anybody else,” Cranch said.
The sinkhole, which emerged overnight Thursday, toppled trees and turned forested patches of swamp into a watery mud flat, parish officials have said.
Authorities flew over the slurry around 9 a.m. Sunday and did not see an increase in the slurry’s area, said John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
DNR spokeswoman Phyllis Darensbourg said Sunday that department officials were still examining the area and likely would have more definitive findings at a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church Hall on La. 70 in Pierre Part.
Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a statewide emergency Friday and the state Office of Conservation issued an emergency order Friday, directing Texas Brine to evaluate the cavern.
An evacuation of the area ordered Friday is still in place. While shelters were still open Sunday, residents are not being forced to leave, Boudreaux said.
Assumption Parish officials also said a stretch of state highway was reopened Sunday. It was closed Saturday after state and local officials discovered that an underground natural gas pipeline had been bent and posed an explosion risk.
Parish authorities shut down La. 70 over a four-mile stretch in Pierre Part and Bayou Corne after they found that natural forces unleashed by the sinkhole bent the underground natural gas pipeline.
Authorities said while the bent 36-inch pipeline was not leaking, it still posed a risk of explosion.
As a result, Crosstex Energy L.P. of Dallas, which owns the pipeline, began depressurizing it Saturday.
Also, three other natural gas companies with pipelines near the bent pipeline were depressurizing their lines, Boudreaux said.
The four pipeline companies completed the task early Sunday evening and were able to reopen the stretch of highway, said the Assumption Parish Police Jury in a news release.
The pipelines, which hold about 350 pounds per-square-inch each, were depressurized at a rate of about 25 pounds per-square-inch per hour, Boudreaux said.
Boudreaux has said the decision to close La. 70 was necessary because the pipeline crosses under the highway just east of Bayou Corne. The compromised section of the pipeline stretches about 400 feet in length about a half-mile south of the highway.
Crosstex spokeswoman Jill McMillan said Sunday the company never considered the pipeline as being an explosion risk because it was shut down after the damage was discovered.
“As far as we’re concerned, there hasn’t been one that we’ve been aware of,” she said of such a risk existing.
Of the three other pipelines, two are owned by Acadian Gas, and one is owned by Florida Natural Gas, Waguespack said.
Anyone with information about bubbling locations or a potential origin of the gas is asked to contact the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at (985) 369-7386.