BAYOU CORNE, La. -- New cracks formed in the containment berm around the Assumption Parish sinkhole as seismic activity increased for a prolonged period.
Because of that increase in activity, which typically precipitates a “burp” where more land is swallowed, work has been at a standstill at the site.
One of the insurance backers for Texas Brine, the company blamed for causing the sinkhole disaster, is suing Texas Brine to get out of paying the cost of the disaster.
“It's unsettling to say the least,” said Ethel Gaudet, owner of one of the 150 properties that are still under a mandatory evacuation order in Bayou Corne because of the disaster.
Her life changed forever in August of last year, when the sinkhole first sucked in part of the Assumption Parish swamp near Bayou Corne.
We caught up with her last month as part of our ongoing investigation into the sinkhole.
“We don't know where we're going from here,” she said about what she and her husband, Roy Giror, will do.
The sinkhole is believed to be caused by a collapsing salt more than 5,000 feet below the surface. Texas Brine is believed to be the company that caused it by mining too close to the edge of the salt dome, causing the cavern to collapse.
When the cavern began to collapse, natural gasses, including methane, and other hydrocarbons, like oil, were released, causing that natural gas to bubble up at sites around the community of Bayou Corne.
That’s largely what has the residents still under an evacuation order. The methane could seep up through the foundations of people’s homes undetected, and with any spark, cause the gas to flash over or explode.
“There's gonna be some continued growth as well as continued scientific work to try to model exactly what is the long term of the sinkhole,” said John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Last spring, Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, to review the permits they issued to Texas Brine over the years.
A spokesman for DNR said that review is "ongoing" and that they are looking at all 15 caverns Texas Brine is mining in Louisiana on three salt domes, eight caverns in Assumption, four in Iberville parish, and three in Lafourche parish.
“We had no expectation that the cavern was at-risk. We were in the process of growing it even further,” said Mark Cartwright, president of a Texas Brine subsidiary.
He told us that in an interview right before an underwriter for Liberty Insurance Underwriters filed a federal lawsuit against them in a Houston court. Liberty alleges they don't have to cover the damages caused by the cavern collapse because they say Texas Brine knew the cavern was at risk before they tried to start mining it again in 2011.
They also argue Texas Brine reported a possible collapse to DNR when they plugged and abandoned it a year before the sinkhole appeared, but did no further monitoring of it.
“We do not consider the Hwy. 70 to be at risk. We do not consider Bayou Corne to be at risk. But nonetheless are taking precautions,” Cartwright said.
Wednesday, WWL-TV received these pictures of cracks in the containment berm that have formed over the past few days from Assumption Parish. In just a few days, one crack became five.
The Department of Natural Resources didn't require Texas Brine to monitor the cavern after they reported a possible collapse in 2011.
However, spokesman Patrick Courreges said in an email, “Conservation has called for additional information for review, such as additional sonar surveys in some instances, or further information on site locations. We will continue to review Texas Brine's operations and the ongoing response efforts to determine if additional actions are needed to keep the people of Bayou Corne safe.”
Texas Brine said they couldn't comment on pending litigation but that they deny many of the allegations in the lawsuit, and also in an emailed statement, “Because we do not comment about the specifics of pending litigation, we are limited in what we can say about the liberty suit.
"Texas Brine was recently made aware of the suit by Liberty. For many months, we have been working closely with our insurers to resolve issues between us and it is unfortunate that liberty filed this suit at this time, particularly since information provided to liberty in confidence was inappropriately used in making these claims. We will deal with this issue in the litigation.
"Texas Brine denies many of the specific allegations made in the suit. Texas Brine also denies liberty’s claims that there is no coverage under the liberty policies and looks forward to establishing that in court.”