PIERRE PART — Residents and evacuees along with environmental groups and others worried about a large sinkhole, tremors and natural gas releases in the Bayou Corne area detailed on Thursday their concerns about the emergency dating four months with the appearance of mysterious bubbles in waterways.
Invited state and parish agencies were not present for the meeting, but an LSU disaster ecology undergraduate and others took down questions raised during two hours of discussion at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church hall.
John Achee Jr., a community activist who manages Facebook pages and websites dedicated to the sinkhole, organized the meeting, telling about 50 to 70 people present it was time for the agencies involved to provide an update.
Achee said they refused to attend the meeting Thursday but he said the questions will be submitted by the meeting organizers and the community will expect them to be answered.
“We are going to expect … that these questions get answered in a timely fashion, and we’re no longer just going to let it be pushed away and these questions not be answered,” Achee said.
Representatives from the following environmental groups were present for the meeting, expressing their interest and offering their help: the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Gulf Coast Environmental and Health Coalition, and Bridge the Gulf Project.
Among the questions submitted by the public Thursday were the following:
- Who is going to pay for the damage to the region’s ecology?
- What are the results of tests promised a few months ago intended to fingerprint natural gas releases from area bayous?
- What does Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development survey data show about the elevation of La. 70 South before and after the sinkhole appeared and other incidents began?
- When will transparency of the operations surrounding the sinkhole, gas releases and tremors improve?
The sinkhole was found Aug. 3 in swamps between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities in Assumption Parish. The sinkhole, also known as a slurry hole or slurry area, is south of La. 70 South on property owned by Texas Brine Co. LLC of Houston.
The sinkhole discovery prompted a mandatory evacuation of 150 homes that remains in effect.
An abandoned Texas Brine salt cavern, which is inside the Napoleonville Dome, is suspected of failing and causing the sinkhole and possibly natural gas releases in area bayous that predated the sinkhole by two months.
As the meeting unfolded Thursday, Texas Brine’s exploratory well being drilled was drawing closer to piercing the top of the cavern to begin a testing program to determine underground conditions.
The 1- by 3-mile salt dome is a solid salt deposit that was pushed up from an ancient sea bed. It has been used for decades for brine production, oil and gas exploration, and hydrocarbon storage.
The Texas Brine cavern was hollowed out of the dome during nearly three decades of solution mining to make brine for various industries.
Some residents waited Thursday until after the meeting to write down questions on sheets of paper that had been posted to the walls of the parish hall.
Others speaking during the meeting mixed their questions with skepticism and frustration over the long wait for answers and a return to normalcy.
Allen Hill, 66, a retired petrochemical industry worker, questioned the length of time for tests to fingerprint or provide a blueprint of the chemical makeup of the natural gas releases, for example.
“Natural gas is coming out of the ground everywhere. We have yet to identify the source of this natural gas. It’s a massive amount of gas that is coming out of here. I don’t think there is enough that’s sitting in that cavern to go as far and as long as this has,” Hill said.
“Why have we not been able to get a blueprint of this gas and go back to this cavern and all these sources around here?” Hill wanted to know.
Hill asserted in a later interview that such testing can be done in hours by industry experts.
Parish and state officials have said a more complex type of testing was being performed that would take some time.
Later in the meeting, Police Juror Henry Dupre said officials were waiting on some of the findings to translate the data from those tests.
Debra Charlet, 54, of Bayou Corne, questioned the wisdom of holding the meeting and submitting questions to state agencies, saying federal government intervention was needed and state agencies would throw the questions in the trash.
Another man called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be involved.
State Rep. Karen St. German, D-Pierre Part, and Texas Brine Co. spokesman Sonny Cranch also attended the meeting. St. Germain answered several questions.
In an interview Thursday before the meeting, John Boudreaux, parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness director, said his office was not attending the meeting because of impending entry into the cavern by Texas Brine’s well and time needed to prepare for such a community meeting.
He said other state agencies were focused on this process as well, which has been under way for several weeks.