Sinkhole prompts Homeland Security oversight, extra explosive unit staff

by Michael Mosher on August 24, 2012

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Homeland Security Louisiana announced Wednesday that officials are stepping up around-the-clock emergency operations near Bayou Corne’s sinkhole, including extra Hazardous Materials & Explosive Units as Texas Brine drills its exploratory well casing near the sinkhole damage, that is growing closer to the company’s underground salt storage. The company faces up to $5,000 a day in fines if they do not retroactively compensate evacuated residents. 

“Officials from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Louisiana State Police, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality will provide oversight of the drilling process 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of the drilling,” Homeland Security officials announced Wednesday. 

Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh said Thursday that Texas Brine is required by the permit issued to it for its brine cavern in the Napoleonville Salt Dome to provide assistance to residents if a sinkhole develops. 

Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities are atop the massive Napoleonville Dome.  

Louisiana State Police (LSP) are relocating their Forward Command Post evening to monitor the sinkhole operations, according to Homeland Security. 

The police Hazmat Unit has increased staff for 24-hour operational support throughout the process. 

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will be monitoring air quality in the area around the clock. 

The Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Office of Conservation staff is monitoring all activity on-site of Texas Brine’s investigatory well to ensure the company complies with all safety standards and rules for proper drilling, well construction and well control. 

“DNR has an agent on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Homeland Security’s statement says. 

“DNR continues to review files and reports from all hydrocarbon storage and brine cavern wells and associated caverns for Napoleonville Salt Dome and the daily activity and planned activity reports that Napoleonville Salt Dome cavern operators, which are being provided in accordance with DNR’s emergency order from August 3.

DNR staff continues coordinating with a science advisory team to look at all data and investigate alternative sources of both the gas bubbling in nearby bayous and sinkhole and subsidence. 

According to the Homeland Security advisory, the science advisory team is working to confirm existing theories, determine methods for testing theories and developing alternative ideas and approaches. 

“DNR is also working with DEQ in reviewing analytical results of water samples from water wells screened in Mississippi River Alluvial aquifer. DEQ continues its monitoring and sampling for naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) with no dangerous readings to date. Ongoing water quality monitoring in the bayou indicates no water pollution associated with the incident to date.” 

While locals have expressed concern that Highway 70 goes right through the mandatory evacuation area and students ride buses to school on that same route, according to Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation (DOTD) “is monitoring roads in the area and, at this time, has no concerns related to the integrity of its state roads, specifically La. 70 in Assumption Parish. DOTD would like to remind motorists to practice caution while driving on La. 70 in Assumption Parish, as there may be heavy truck traffic entering and exiting the roadway.” 

“Out of an abundance of caution, DOTD engineers are continuously monitoring the state road system in this area — 24 hours a day with roving patrols and frequent surveys. If conditions change, DOTD crews are prepared to close roads immediately to ensure public safety and will announce appropriate detours. 

“DOTD crews are finalizing the control network or study area by tying topographic points together. This data will be processed and compiled for establishing the baseline of the study area. 

“DOTD engineers are measuring elevation levels weekly using GPS technology at four locations along La. 70 – one on Highway 70 perpendicular to the site, and at the Bayou Choupique, Grand Bayou and Bayou Corne bridges. So far, no changes in elevation have been found at these locations. 

According to an interview by Deborah Dupré on Thursday, the non-government environmental and human rights watchdog group Louisiana Bucket Brigade has been awaiting an invitation call from locals in the Bayou Corne Grand Bayou area to begin independent analysis work there. 

Louisiana Environment Action Network opened a Report Log service this week for locals to report health and other impacts of the disaster.

Full article…here

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