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America’s Latest Oil and Gas Rush

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Maya Schenwar

The oil and gas industry is entrenched in southern Louisiana — and it is taking a horrific toll. In early August, a “frack-out” occurred in Louisiana’s Assumption Parish, where an underground cavern used to produce raw material for the petrochemical industry collapsed, freeing oil and gas from underground wells. Geologists can only compare the resulting disaster to the drilling technique known as fracking: vast quantities of subterranean liquid forced its way to the surface, cracking apart underground rock and causing the earth to open up under the Bayou Corne, where a delicate swamp forest was swallowed up by a giant toxic sinkhole. The sinkhole has since grown to eight acres — the size of six football fields — and prompted hundreds of people to evacuate. It has boggled geologists, who say the disaster is unprecedented: as Truthout’s Mike Ludwig quoted one expert, “Nobody in the world has ever faced a situation like this that we’re grappling with.”

The sinkhole in Bayou Corne, Assumption Parish, Louisiana

The sinkhole in Bayou Corne. Courtesy of Assumption Parish, LA official website.

Geologists and engineers are now facing problems they’ve never had to deal with simultaneously: a sinkhole, plus a widespread leak of both oil and natural gas. No clear roadmap for recovery exists for Bayou Corne, and evacuees still do not know when they will be able to return to their homes.

Texas Brine, the drilling and storage company connected with the incident (the company drew brine from a salt cavern underneath the bayou), hasn’t faced much blowback. In fact, Texas Brine initially blamed its cavern’s collapse on recent earthquakes – not on its own activities. However, officials say Texas Brine’s collapsed cavern is actually to blame for the earthquakes (as well as for the sinkhole)!

Despite the disaster’s historic proportions, mainstream media have barely batted an eye, aside from a few initial reports in August. Truthout’s Ludwig was one of the only journalists to visit the evacuation zone near the sinkhole and interview evacuees. He produced an in-depth feature exposing the disaster and its implications for the rest of the country.

In the coming months, we plan to follow up on the cleanup effort and the lives of the people who are waiting to go home, and to zero in on more ground-level stories in other locations. As the unconventional oil and gas drilling rapidly industrializes rural areas across the nation, the lessons of Bayou Corne will be crucial to draw upon. The full story of America’s current oil and gas rush cannot be told without the voices of the people living in areas impacted by the industry. That’s why Truthout will soon be taking a “fracking road trip” to the areas hardest hit by drilling, to learn more about how that practice is uniting and dividing families, friends and neighbors, who must make tough choices about the future of their communities when the fossil fuel companies come knocking at their doors.


Maya Schenwar is the executive director of Truthout. Previously, she was senior editor and reporter at Truthout, and prior to that, she served as contributing editor for Punk Planet magazine. In addition to Truthout, she has written for In These Times, Bitch Magazine, Ms. Magazine, The Nation, AlterNet, Zeek, NewCity Chicago, and others.

Reporter Mike Ludwig contributed to this post.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Julie-Dahlman/1457274801 Julie Dahlman

    Whoa, last August and I consider myself informed. My contempt for the media and my own buried my head in the sand mentality because there is so much devastation to take in and now it is Amerika where these multi nationals are wreaking havoc again, and again. The violence and savage ways that they are killing off the planet get harder and harder to take in, to look at the pictures, to read the articles. All in the name of more profits for a few. Nature in balance is no more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nickfortuna Nick Fortuna

    I do not know how something this massive has not reached more people!

  • http://twitter.com/fpmora Frank P. Mora

    Natural gas is green and can revitalize our economy while reducing dependance on dirty oil. RegulatFracking! NoMoreOil!

  • http://twitter.com/TerminatorBarbi Guerrera Zorra

    We need to get the energy industries strangle off of American Government. We’re not a stupid society, we realize Big energy companies have done everything possible to suppress effective energy sources because they can’t have a monopoly on them, sources like the wind & sun, or how about Tesla’s technologies.

    We aren’t stupid, but we are guilty of “false hope” believing we have a system/elected leaders protecting us, sadly that system is fractured. The leaders we elect allow their hands to be tied in order for their pockets to be filled.

    The solution remains within our voting system, know where your representatives stand on these issues. If your representatives aren’t taking action towards safer energy production than we “must” replace them, and we keep on replacing them until we find the ones who are willing to do the job right.

    As far as fracking goes…. BULLS_ _ _! There isn’t anything safe about fracking. T Boone Pickens knew exactly what he was doing when he bought up all the water aquifers/rights.

    We can live without gas & oil, but we can not live without clean water.

    Fracking is “NOT” the answer. Working harder to develop storage/batteries that have the capacity to effectively store energy is.

  • http://twitter.com/isaiditdoo kegan stedwell

    What really shocks me most about fracking is the fact that most of the natural gas is sold overseas! So not only are we strip mining and leaving American sites and water tables ruined for the foreseeable future, but we are selling the hard won gas for a profit for the owners of the drilling contracts instead of keeping them as national reserves. We are in no better position than so many 3rd world countries that are drilled and dumped ie Ecuador, the Congo etc
    Humanity is being trounced for an immediate fix, a profit that costs more than any money paid. It’s shocking. Selling off our natural resources so a few can get rich. Where will that money get them when our water is poisoned? Greed is a disease like alcoholism, greedy bastards need controls and limits, fracking is a short term solution with so many more problems, surely no one should be able to make a profit until years have passed and all complications are accounted for. Think of the families here near this sink hole, where and how will they relocate? Who pays ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.fisher.7121 Robert Fisher

    When are we going to wake up and FACE THE HARSH FACTS in America??

    WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF OIL!!!!!!! We are using more and more dangerous
    methods of extracting what’s left of this remaining oil through any
    means including ‘FRACKING’ the ground to open up the rock to release the
    tinny little bits of oil trapped in those rocks. The results are NOT
    GOOD for the rest of us (see photo of sink hole caused by Fracking) and
    we need to recognize that it’s way overdue to think about some
    alternatives to OIL!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anon

    Would like to see a real news story on this … from reading the above, it seems this had nothing to do with fracking, and really is simply the collapse and breach of an underground storage facility? Real facts please before we jump to action. No reason to spin anything here since it’s obviously an environmental disaster either way.

  • Jason

    Guys, this is not a result of fracking. This was a salt dome collapse.

  • Jason

    You’re right. These salt formations are rinsed out using water and companies like Texas Brine use that water to make things like caustic and chlorine. The company then rents the “salt dome” out to refineries and petrochemical companies to use it for storing raw materials (natural gas, ethane, oil, etc…). This incident had nothing to do with fracking or oil and gas production. Basically a cavern collapsed, albeit and man-made cavern.

  • Jason

    Fracking is commonplace for extracting natural gas from the ground just as much as oil. Even though fracking has nothing to do with this sinkhole.

  • Anonymous

    There is a website that has been documenting this since August: enenews.com
    They have lots of videos / flyover’s/ state of emergency declarations and articles. I have been following this because I FB friend happened to have a link to a legal responsibility gambit by Tx Brine from Aug. If you are interested, it may be worth a gander.

  • Anonymous

    I think you missed the point. The problem was that gas ubbles were originally observed and then a sinkhole was observed that was near the salt-dome – Then came the concern about “what was in the sink hole” followed by the news that the saltdome has been in a state of collapse. It may be a confluence of factors, but no one knows. The site I mentioned above provides a better description of the events that have unfolded. To be clear – there is not a single saltdome in the area – and the article above points out “NO ONE KNOWS” could be a heads-up that when anyone decides on a course of action without knowing or considering the unintended-long term consequences…perhaps this will be a heads up to demand more trials before moving headlong into the possible abyss.

  • Kate

    We have been fracking in Michigan for decades without any significant issues (http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2012/08/fracking_in_regards_to_letter.html). In fact, fracking is a fairly old technique, with it’s roots traced back to the 1860s. The problems lie in the regulation of fracking and in cases, such as those seen in New York and Pennsylvania, the problems were from poor regulation of well casings. So when you say that there is nothing safe about fracking, you are completely false. Though human error and poor well site planning can lead to disastrous results, it is not the fault of the technology, it is how the technology is implemented (human error and poor planning).

  • c phizzle

    This disaster has nothing to do with fracking Fracking introduces pressure into the subsurface. This sink hole and leak resulted from removing pressure by means of extracting ENORMOUS volumes of salt from deeply underground caverns. Literally the opposites of each other. The author is very uninformed regarding this topic. She does not qualify her comparison to fracking, only stating “Geologists can only compare the resulting disaster to the drilling technique known as fracking.” This does not mean they are similar. This article is just her attempt to capitalize on the new movie “Promised Land”

  • ken

    The biggest problem we have in our country right now is that OUR GOVERNMENT SOLD US OUT AND BETRAYED US. The problem also is there is no consequences for there actions so no consequences equals abuse every time.

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t matter if this is a result of Fracking or not. The issue here seems to be if Texas Brine or any other like type of industry was not present then there would not be this issue. Arguing over semantics is a distraction from the fact that this companies activities have lead to this. Why is this so hard to understand?

  • Mike L

    This is not journalism. The author is not only extremely biased, she does not seem to understand geology, environmental science, or current energy policy (see other posts explaining the actual cause of the sinkhole). If we have any hope to save the environment, it is by applying science not environmental fundamentalism.

  • Mike L

    WTF are you talking about?

    The US is a net importer of natural gas.
    http://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/importsexports/annual/index.cfm

    You are right, fracking is a quick fix. It is a quick fix for global warming. Due to the increased gas supply and conversion to gas fired electric plants, the US emitted less energy related green house gas in 2012 than we have in 20 years!
    http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=7350

  • Mike L

    wrong!

    As a society we can not currently live without oil and gas. There are seven billion people on this planet that need energy to grow food, pump and filter water, process sewage, produce medicine, build shelter and supply heat.

    We must replace fossil fuels, but switching is a slow process with many hurdles that must still be overcome. We must develop new technology and use science to develop cleaner energy but until then oil and gas are still necessary. If we were to stop producing oil and gas tomorrow the result would be massive famine, disease and war.