Residents continue to be frustrated over sinkhole

Emotions ran high Tuesday at a community meeting over Assumption Parish’s 24-acre sinkhole when Bayou Corne residents found fault with Texas Brine over buyout talks, testing procedures and whether the company is concerned about their plight.

Also state Office of Conservation expert Don Marlin provided his much awaited interpretation of highly detailed seismic data collected under the sinkhole.

More study is planned and residents left with one certainty impressed on them instead: The end of the sinkhole disaster, in particular the methane gas lurking under the community, may be years away.

“What all this is meaning is we’re in for a long haul,” said Gary Hecox, senior hydrogeologist with CB&I, a contractor working on the sinkhole for the Office of Conservation.

Scientists have said a Texas Brine salt dome cavern failed last year, setting in motion underground events that caused the sinkhole to form and release methane from deep reservoirs. About 350 residents in the Assumption Parish swampland community have been under evacuation orders since the sinkhole was found Aug. 3.

Residents also had tearful commentary and criticism for Mark Cartwright, a Texas Brine vice president, about buyouts, the mediation process, some testing procedures and their perception of the Houston company’s concern for their situation.

Mike Schaff, a Bayou Corne resident, took issue with Texas Brine continuing to tell news outlets that the company pays residents $875 per week in assistance, which he said is inadequate. He noted the payments were required by the company’s permit issued in the early 1980s to drill the cavern that failed.

“I wish y’all would just quit, quit saying that, OK? That makes us sound like we’re nothing but greedy people. We’re not,” Schaff said.

“We want to move back to our house. We want to be able to bring our grandchildren back here. We want to live our normal life like it was. We’re not your enemies, OK,” Schaff said, his voice breaking. “Don’t treat us like your enemies. Treat us like your fellow members of the community, OK? Please help us.”

The comments drew loud applause from the nearly filled room at the Assumption Community Center.

“That’s a passionate plea and I totally get it. I totally get it,” Cartwright said. “There have been a lot of lives that have been turned upside down by all of this, and we are absolutely committed to getting this resolved and bringing it to an end.”

While the company announced Monday that it had reached buyout agreements with 59 property owners, some residents at the meeting Tuesday found fault with mediation efforts, claiming they were being beaten down.

“It wasn’t mediation. It was manipulation,” said Jim Robertson, 58, of the company’s mediation over his girlfriend’s property.

Continued assurances from Cartwright and Sonny Cranch, company spokesman, did not seem to quell residents’ emotions.

The new assessment of the seismic data suggested two probable gas sources for the methane in a shallow aquifer under Bayou Corne. The sources could hold as much as 60 million cubic feet of gas.

These sources could act as kind of deeper reservoirs, feeding more gas into the shallower aquifer above, continuing the potential risk of explosions to the houses in the community.

Three other zones with less likely pathways to the surface could hold another 150 million cubic feet of gas, Marlin said.

These findings contradict Texas Brine’s interpretation of the same data earlier this year, which found that the deep sources of gas had been played out and only gas in the shallower aquifer had to be dealt with.

Experts estimate 45 million cubic feet of gas is in the shallow aquifer.

John Boudreaux, director of the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, told residents that at current rates of gas removal, it would take five years just to remove the gas in the aquifer.

Hecox said officials were exploring the possibility of drilling wells to remove gas from the deeper pockets.

In January, the Louisiana Office of Conservation ordered Texas Brine to perform the 2.28-square-mile seismic survey to obtain a better picture of the rock under the sinkhole.