Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh placed new requirements on Texas Brine LLC for providing data and analysis promptly to the Office of Conservation, in addition to the existing orders issued to the company in response to the formation of the sinkhole/slurry area next to the company’s abandoned brine cavern in the Napoleonville Salt Dome.
Welsh said the amendment to the existing Declaration of Emergency and Directive came following Texas Brine’s unilateral declaration that its cavern had been breached due to regional seismic activity.
Texas Brine issued a statement late Monday night making the claim of a regional seismic cause for the cavern failure and citing U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) seismic analysis, without prior notice or consultation with state agencies, Assumption Parish officials or the Science Work Group created to support investigation of the sinkhole/slurry area and ongoing presence of natural gas in the ground water and surface water near the Bayou Corne community.
On Tuesday, USGS Senior Adviser for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards William Leith stated that USGS consensus is that the seismic activity detected in the area is a consequence of the cavern collapse, not the cause of the collapse and sinkhole/slurry area.
“Texas Brine has elected to let its own interests guide a premature conclusion lacking sufficient supporting analysis – breaking away from the ongoing cooperative effort to apply scientific principles to determine causes and impacts, guided by the need for accurate data and analysis to best protect public safety,” Welsh said. “The investigation and the remediation for environmental damages will be driven by the best science available and carried out to standards set by the state of Louisiana to ensure the safety of the Bayou Corne community – and will not be driven by Texas Brine’s timetable or concerns about corporate liability.”
The new requirements for Texas Brine include turning over the studies and data the company claims show seismic activity as the cause for the collapse, immediate reporting of changes to cavern status and immediate reporting of activity logs, well logs and test results generated by the company’s activities involving the cavern. To ensure transparency to the public, Texas Brine must immediately report any change in the cavern conditions to the Office of Conservation. The Office stands ready to issue penalties or other fines to Texas Brine should it not comply.
Welsh said the Office of Conservation will continue to maintain a constant and active presence in the parish and on the well site – including 24/7 oversight at the well site by Office Conservation staff to ensure safe and responsible operations.
The Office of Conservation also will continue to have contract staff from the Shaw Group on the drilling site, performing ongoing testing and analysis, including:
- Sampling of natural gas in the cavern to compare with natural gas found in other areas near the Bayou Corne community
- Analysis of results of sonar testing to determine the current profile of the cavern structure
- Determining stability of the roof of the cavern
- Analysis of types of fluids found in the cavern
These tests, combined with the cooperative efforts of the state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to sample and assess the cavern contents, will assist in determining possible causes of the cavern collapse and how it may be linked to the ongoing situation near the Bayou Corne community, Welsh said.
Welsh said he has also directed the Office’s contractor to perform an independent root cause analysis of the cavern failure.
The Office of Conservation is also continuing the work, through its contractor, of establishing locations to drill water wells near the Bayou Corne community to assess the presence of natural gas and ensure it is removed.
The Office is also ensuring that salt dome operators in the area are complying with the directive to assess the presence of natural gas beneath their facilities and remove where needed to protect public safety, and continue to coordinate efforts and share information with the Office’s contractor staff.
“We are committed to doing things the right way, making the process as transparent as possible for the public, taking action supported by science and holding the responsible parties accountable, all with the goal of protecting the people and the environment and a return to normalcy – and we will be here until the job is done,” Welsh said.
The Commissioner’s Order can be viewed online at: http://dnr.louisiana.gov/assets/OC/BC_All_Updates/Com.Order.TXB.Sept.12.PDF