PBS focusing NOVA’s lens on Bayou Corne sinkhole

The Public Broadcasting Service television series NOVA is focusing its documentary lens on the nearly 2-year-old sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish.

A film crew associated with the venerable, award-winning science program finished up four days of interviews and shooting in Bayou Corne on Friday, said NOVA producer Larry Klein. A one-hour program is set to air in the winter of 2015.

The lake-like sinkhole, now covering 32 acres, has drawn worldwide media attention since it appeared in early August 2012, swallowing up a former cypress swamp.

Newspapers, magazines, websites and television news programs have all reported on the sinkhole and its effects on the 350 people who once lived in the scenic hamlets of Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou.

“This particular program is looking very broadly at sinkholes,” Klein said.

The program will report on why and where sinkholes occur around the world, he said, whether their numbers are increasing and whether anything can be done to prevent or lessen them.

Klein, who has been making PBS programing since the 1970s and has National Emmy and George Foster Peabody awards to his credit, said his crew already has done filming in Florida and plans a trip to the Zaragoza region of northeastern Spain in about a week. Both areas have naturally occurring sinkholes but have geology that is different from what underlies the swamps in Bayou Corne.

Scientists believe a Texas Brine Co.-operated salt dome cavern had a breach after it had been mined of its salt too closely to the outer face of the large salt deposit surrounding the cavern. That breach in the salt dome cavern’s supporting wall allowed surrounding rock to flow into the cavern, leading to the sinkhole at Bayou Corne.

Klein said he became interested in sinkholes after he learned about the one in Bayou Corne, saw dramatic video of the sinkhole sucking down a cypress tree last year and also learned about the draining of Lake Peigneur in 1980 after a drilling error over a salt dome.

Klein said the show isn’t an investigative program aimed at assigning blame, but will help people understand what happened in Bayou Corne and why.

“In truth, that’s really been our focus. We are looking at the science side of it,” Klein said.

Klein, who has a production company in Washington, D.C., that is developing the show for NOVA, said as a Northeastener, he did not have an appreciation for the swamp until he was able to visit it firsthand.

But seeing the swamp in close proximity to large petrochemical and other industrial facilities underscored for him an apparent tension in Louisiana — between the desire to preserve natural places and the need to allow industry to exploit natural resources and benefit the economy.

“That tension is so visible here. It’s amazing,” he said in a telephone interview from New Orleans on Friday as he awaited a return flight home.

Klein said his interviews included John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness; Patrick Courreges, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources; Wilma Subra, a technical adviser for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network; and several Bayou Corne residents.

Never one to be left out, the sinkhole also had a say in the NOVA shoot. Tremors last week delayed the crew’s attempts to use an aerial drone to shoot over the sinkhole. Klein said things calmed down enough eventually to get the shot.

Texas Brine officials, who have regularly spoken with other media outlets and allowed sinkhole tours, declined an on-camera interview. Sonny Cranch, Texas Brine spokesman, said the company provided NOVA technical information and accommodated the crew at the site but chose not to be interviewed for the program.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.