- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

NAPOLEONVILLE, La. (AP) - Environmentalists and landowners in the area of a huge sinkhole in Assumption Parish are expressing worries about Texas Brine Co.’s push for a five-year state permit to discharge salty groundwater with traces of benzene and toluene into the sinkhole.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1whzeCb) that the process has been underway for a year through short-term permits in a process to remove potentially dangerous methane gas collecting beneath the Bayou Corne community.

Environmentalists say the discharge introduces contaminated groundwater into the sinkhole and poses a risk to the surrounding freshwater swamp.

The state environmental department argues that the process is simply putting water that was already in the sinkhole back into the sinkhole. The department says the process is not affecting surrounding swamps and bayous.

“The water that came out of the sinkhole is being pumped back in, minus the gas,” DEQ spokesman Greg Langley said Thursday.

Scientists believe the sinkhole was caused by the failure of a Texas Brine salt dome cavern.

They believe it opened up natural oil and gas deposits when it formed. The gas spread in an underground aquifer and under the Bayou Corne community, posing an explosion risk to homes.

Environmentalists say a levee around the lake-like, 37-acre sinkhole has failed before because of stirrings under the sinkhole and is just feet from the Bayou Corne waterway and sensitive aquatic life.

“We don’t know what all is going on underground,” Darryl Malek-Wiley, Sierra Club representative, said Wednesday.

Testing has shown that the water from the aquifer, which is no longer used for drinking water in Assumption Parish, contains trace amounts of toluene and benzene and other contaminants and has a high salt content. Continual testing in waters around the sinkhole have not shown contamination leaking out, Texas Brine officials have said.

Levee failures also only have resulted in surrounding water flowing into the sinkhole, not the reverse, because sinkhole water is often below the water level outside the levee.

The state Office of Conservation has ordered Texas Brine to remove the gas from the area and the company has been using nearly five dozen wells to collect and burn it. But those wells also pull up groundwater from the aquifer, depressing the flow of gas. The water must be removed periodically to keep the gas flowing.

Wells, pipelines and trucks take water from the aquifer and put it back into the sinkhole which is connected to the same aquifer.

DEQ has already granted tentative approval for the new permit and argues in a draft permit, as Texas Brine has argued in its submissions to DEQ, that the discharge is a closed loop that does not affect surrounding swamps and bayous.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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