It was just over a year ago that the ground suddenly opened up beneath the residents of Bayou Corne, Louisiana, and swallowed their lives whole.
A salt dome operated by the petrochemical company Texas Brine collapsed on August 2, 2012, causing a single-acre sinkhole to form just outside the Assumption Parish town, forcing the evacuation of its 350 inhabitants.
What happened in Bayou Corne, as near as anyone can tell, is that one of the salt caverns Texas Brine hollowed out—a mine dubbed Oxy3—collapsed. The sinkhole initially spanned about an acre. Today it covers more than 24 acres and is an estimated 750 feet deep. It subsists on a diet of swamp life and cypress trees, which it occasionally swallows whole. It celebrated its first birthday recently, and like most one-year-olds, it is both growing and prone to uncontrollable burps, in which a noxious brew of crude oil and rotten debris bubbles to the surface. But the biggest danger is invisible; the collapse unlocked tens of millions of cubic feet of explosive gases, which have seeped into the aquifer and wafted up to the community. The town blames the regulators. The regulators blame Texas Brine. Texas Brine blames some other company, or maybe the regulators, or maybe just God.
Also on the sinkhole's birthday, the state of Louisiana filed a lawsuit against Texas Brine for what Mother Jones called "the biggest ongoing industrial disaster in the United States you haven't heard of."
And with no end in sight to the sinkhole's expansion, this might be as good a time as any to listen up, because Texas Brine is far from alone in employing dangerous mining and drilling methods that could make Bayou Corne look like a puddle.
[video via The Office of Emergency Preparedness]