New evidence shows Bayou Corne oil and gas sinkhole disaster cover up, human right to security violated
As officials were telling Louisiana bayou people pleading answers to not worry and little more, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and Texas Brine Co. officials haveknown for over a year that the company’s salt dome cavern had radioactive materials pumped into it and might have problems, according to government regulatory files uncovered Wednesday. The salt dome is now suspected of causing the expanding 160,000 square feet sinkhole and natural gas venting in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou area swamps.
For over two months, as gas bubbles and tremors rattled Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou swampland and residents‘ human rights, DNR and other officials asking for patience knew they had given permission to have radioactive materials pumped into the salt dome, and they had been testing oil and gas wells and other salt caverns due to problems, according tothe Advocate’s David J. Mitchell of River Parishes bureau Thursday morning.
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Hiding information related to human security involving government approved industry environmental modifications (ENMOD) can gravely violate Human Rights Article 3. Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights were issued more than a decade ago. That prompted a collaborative project involving the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the oil and gas industry association IPIECA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to ensure rights are upheld.
“The problems with the salt cavern were not disclosed to the public and some parish officials involved with the response effort,” reports Mitchell, evidencing DNR records, interviews, public statements and public meetings established that:
“• The possibly failed salt cavern may be closer to the outer wall of theNapoleonville Dome than Texas Brine officials believed.
• DNR defended the timing of its disclosures about the history surrounding the salt cavern as matching the emerging facts of the incidents in Bayou Corne.
• Sonny Cranch, Texas Brine spokesman, said company officials have been as surprised as anyone about a possible collapse of their salt cavern.
• DNR officials allowed Texas Brine to deposit naturally-occurring radioactive material arising from drilling into two company salt caverns, including the one that may have breached in the Bayou Corne area. As of Wednesday, state environmental officials had not tested the sinkhole for radioactivity.”
2011 letter evidences cavern near sinkhole failed integrity test
According to Mitchell, Texas Brine Co. Saltville LLC president Mark J. Cartwright informed DNR in a January 21, 2011 letter about a failed integrity test of the cavern and company officials’ suspicion that the cavern possibly breached Napoleonville Dome’s outer wall, possibly explaining a loss of pressure in the cavern during the test.
“One obvious concern is the cavern’s proximity to the edge of salt,” Cartwright wrote to DNR’s Joseph “Joe” S. Ball Jr., director of DNR Injection and Mining Division that oversees salt caverns. “There have been several studies in this regard, and Texas Brine has mapped the salt boundary near the cavern applying available well log data, seismic data, and most recently, vertical seismic data gathered during the workover. At this time, a breach out of the salt dome appears possible.”
Texas Brine officials met with DNR officials on Jan. 21, 2011 about their work on the salt cavern that may have failed, DNR records show.
Friday evening, the day the sinkhole developed and released a foul diesel odor was the first time DNR officials made public information indicating that the cavern may have failed and caused the sinkhole, a “slurry area.”
Tuesday night, DNR and Texas Brine officials explained that the cavern appeared closer to Napoleonville Dome’s edge than thought when the cavern was issued a state permit 1982, and that the cavern wall might have been breached. That failure could allow a connection between the cavern’s brine contents and sediments around the dome.
The 160,000 square foot sinkhole is filled mainly with salty water and, has traces of diesel mixed with mud and vegetation on its surface. Officials have explained that diesel is floated on top of brine in salt caverns to prevent unwanted erosion.
DNR officials speculated natural gas that accumulates in salt formations, was released, accounting for the bubbles.
“The January 2011 Texas Brine letter served as formal notification to DNR of the problems that led to the cavern well being plugged in June 2011, but Texas Brine officials had been examining the cavern’s wall at least since June 2010, DNR records show,” the Advocate reports.
In early September 2010, Texas Brine began reworking its cavern well, milling a section of salt higher than the existing cavern roof, at 3,400 feet deep, to see if the upper strata could be mined. DNR’s permit for that work was issued in May 2010.
Officials say they are surprised, not hiding information from the public
Wednesday, Ball explained that officials believe that area extending approximately 100 feet through the well casing above the cavern roof might be the source of the possible salt dome wall breach. DNR officials defended its managing the issue and the Bayou Corne disaster area investigation. They say the agency followed evidence that started with natural gas bubbles seen directly over a natural gas pipeline corridor under Bayou Corne and only recently turned to the slurry area.
Ball said DNR officials focused on locating a source of the natural gas large enough to send gas bubbling up in the bayous and they focused on area natural gas pipelines and two salt caverns known to be storing natural gas under pressure.
“We were looking for a single gas source. We never anticipated that gas that would naturally accumulate in a cavern would have that much driving force behind it to move gas so far away from it,” said Ball of the DNR. “That is why we never focused on anything other than the two caverns that stored natural gas under high pressure.”
Ball said DNR officials first started looking at Texas Brine’s cavern a few days before the sinkhole developed, when seismic data from the U.S. Geological Survey indicated earthquakes appeared to be coming from the area near what would become a sinkhole.
Asked if he could see how some might see DNR as hiding information with the disclosure of the letter, Ball replied, “Yes, I can, but you are playing Monday morning quarterback. That is always going happen.”
Sonny Cranch, spokesman for Texas Brine, said company officials did not make the connection between the observations described in Cartwright’s letter and the events of the past few months in Bayou Corne.
“There still may not be connection,” Cranch said. “I’m serious. This collapse is as much a surprise to Texas Brine as anybody else.”
Cartwright’s letter was found in a review Wednesday of DNR regulatory files for the cavern. Ball and other DNR officials provided the files Wednesday at agency offices in Baton Rouge after a verbal request earlier this week.
John Boudreaux, director of the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and incident commander for the Bayou Corne disaster, said he was not informed about possible problems with the salt cavern until Friday after the sinkhole emerged.
Boudreaux, who began fielding calls about 6 a.m. Friday about the diesel smell, determined a half-hour later to be from the sinkhole, said the Texas Brine letter is news to him.
“They have never told me anything,” he said. “We have been fighting this since it began, and this is very concerning to me.”
John Achee Jr., community activist running two Facebook sites that have become community forums on the Bayou Corne disaster, said, “I know that this was certainly a possibility, but I am kind of shocked to be honest with you.”
Thursday, Barbara Levy commented on Facebook, “I would get outta there just as fast as my legs would carry me!”
Government authorized Texas Brine to dispose radioactive material into cavern
DNR records show that on Aug. 31, 1995, it authorized Texas Brine to dispose of 20 cubic feet of naturally occurring radioactive material by pumping it into the cavern and another Texas Brine salt cavern in Lafourche Parish. (Read letter.)
A Texas Brine letter dated Aug. 25, 1995, requesting the disposal says the radioactive “scale” had accumulated in soils around the two cavern wells. (Read letter.)
EPA says the radioactivity of scale, a common byproduct of oil and gas exploration and production, can vary widely, from background to much higher levels.
DEQ officials said Wednesday NORM materials can be harmful if ingested and that they had not been testing the sinkhole for radioactivity.
Attorney Stuart Smith, based about an hour’s drive from Bayou Corne, specializes in NORM victim cases, explains:
“NORM, an acronym for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, includes all radioactive elements found in the environment. Long-lived radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium and potassium and any of their decay products, i. e radium and radon, have always been present in the earth’s crust and within tissues of all living beings.
“Although the concentration of NORM in most natural substances is low, higher concentrations may arise as a result of human activities. For example radium may be precipitated out in scale that forms in a natural gas processing pipe or radon decay products may concentrate on the turbine blades of a natural gas pump. Enhancement of natural radioactivity has been found in:
• Petroleum and natural gas production
• Mineral extraction and processing
• Metal recycling
• Forest products and thermal – electric production
• Water treatment facilities
• Tunneling and underground workings
“Additionally, technologically enhanced levels of NORM or (TERM or TENORM) often build up in oilfield equipment used to collect and dispose produced water. Equipment such as downhole tubing, surface piping, separator tanks, etc. are often found to have elevated levels of radioactive scales built up which can be a hazard whenever these fixtures are removed or disassembled for maintenance.”
Tuesday, a University of Texas seismologist found environmental modifications (ENMODs), geological disturbances such as earthquakes, correlate with oil and gas company’s hydraulic fracturing injection wells, according to research reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wednesday, due to the escalating swampland disaster, Chevron Corp’s subsidiary Bridgeline Holdings gas energy company halted its nearby pipeline activities and drew down fuel at its nearby storage cavern.
“My cousin’s family had to leave and join us here in Alabama,” Nicolas Alexander wrote early Thursday morning on Facebook. “When [are] the Southern people finally going to put our foots down and rid ourselves of these menaces??”