Relief well to examine cavern

08 13, 2012 by The Advocate

A Houston company whose salt cavern may be the cause of a giant sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish has hired a Louisiana company to drill a relief well to examine the cavern, the Texas company’s spokesman said Sunday.

Texas Brine Co. LLC has contracted Riceland Drilling of Lafayette to drill the well, said Sonny Cranch, spokesman for Texas Brine.

“The process has begun in terms of having a committed contractor,” Cranch said.

Phone calls made to a number listed for Riceland were not returned Sunday.

The drilling rig will be brought to a site about 1,000 feet southeast of the sinkhole, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said.

Crews were preparing the site Sunday for the rig’s arrival, Waguespack said.

Because of its large size, the drilling rig will be broken down into smaller components and will be delivered to the site on about 20 to 25 flatbed trailers, Cranch said.

Authorities anticipate the components will be delivered to the site via La. 70 by midweek, Waguespack said.

A post on the Assumption Parish Police Jury’s website says people who travel on La. 70 need to be prepared for “lots of activity” in the area while the rig is delivered.

Assumption Parish Police Jury President Martin “Marty” Triche said he does not expect the rig delivery to affect traffic because Louisiana State Police will escort the parts to the drilling site.

Residents in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou areas had been seeing mysterious natural gas bubbles in the two bayous and feeling tremors for more than two months before the sinkhole emerged Aug. 3 near Bayou Corne.

Department of Natural Resources officials have said they believe the salt cavern, which had been used for brine production, may have caused the sinkhole and natural gas releases.

Louisiana Office of Conservation Commissioner Jim Welsh ordered Texas Brine on Thursday to begin drilling a relief well to determine the integrity of the cavern.

Interim DNR secretary Stephen Chustz has said Texas Brine had until the end of business hours Monday to submit a drilling permit application or face $5,000 daily fines.

Cranch said Sunday that Texas Brine will submit its permit application to DNR Monday.

DNR staff will review the application within hours of receiving it, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has said.

“Once the permit is officially issued, it’s going to be fast tracked,” Cranch said.

Cranch said Sunday that Texas Brine still anticipates the well will take 40 days to drill after which diagnostic tests can be taken to see what is happening inside the cavern.

“Everything is contingent upon what they encounter as they drill this relief well,” he said.

Cranch has said the company would drill from a stable and safe location on Texas Brine’s 40-acre site south of La. 70 South.

In the meantime, state and local authorities continue to monitor the sinkhole and the gas bubbles, Triche said.

“Until they get that exploratory well drilled, we’ll have a lot of days like this, of anticipation,” Triche said.

John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said officials flew over the sinkhole Sunday morning and saw “no changes that we can tell.”

A Louisiana-based cleanup company, Clean Harbor, has also begun cleaning the sinkhole and nearby areas, Boudreaux said. That process is expected to take several weeks, he said.

Texas Brine has agreed to financially assist Assumption Parish residents who have been forced to evacuate because of the sinkhole emergency.

Texas Brine’s original permit for the cavern requires the company to assist residents in areas deemed to be at risk, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has said.

Several lawsuits have been filed, claiming Texas Brine negligently handled the salt cavern and did not properly notify the public about it, attorneys have said.