An enormous 22-acre sinkhole discovered on August 3, 2012 in Assumption Parish, Louisiana is forcing residents to make the hardest decision of their lives: give up their waterfront homes or risk remaining in proximity to the potentially dangerous gas-emitting behemoth that sits less than a mile away from some of their properties.
The sinkhole threatening these people's way of life was the result of a collapsed underground salt dome cavern about 40 miles south of Baton Rouge. A salt dome is a large, naturally occurring underground salt deposit. Brine companies drill on the dome's outskirts to create caverns in order to extract the mineral, which is a key ingredient in the petrochemical refining process. Officials say a cavern was being mined too close to the edge of the Napoleon Salt Dome, and that careless mining weakened the dome, ultimately causing the devastating collapse and sinkhole formation. When oil and natural gas began oozing up and out of that sinkhole, transforming acres of swampland into muck, the 350 residents of the nearest community were told to evacuate the area.
Texas Brine Co. operated the now-collapsed salt dome, and is working on buyout agreements with residents who have not yet filed suit against the company. To date, Texas Brine has made 92 buyout offers, but only 44 have been accepted.
Many residents want to stay, but are afraid of what will happen if they do. They worry that the sinkhole will continue to grow, undermining the strength of their own properties. They are also afraid that the bubbling natural gas could accumulate, potentially affecting their health or even causing an explosion. Strengthening these fears is the fact that gas has already been detected under at least four homes on the north side of the community.
Officials do expect the sinkhole area to stabilize once debris fills the hole created by the collapsed cavern. That still hasn't happened, though, and the land continues to shift, growing the sinkhole, nearly a year after its discovery. The state has fined the company $260,000 for its slow response in attempts to contain the sinkhole's growth and to install air-quality monitors in nearby homes. Unfortunately, the fines and buyout offers will never allow the Assumption Parrish residents to enjoy the lives they'd imagined for themselves. Thanks to the negligence of Texas Brine Co., Assumption Parish will likely become a ghost town instead of a thriving retirement community.