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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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