It’s the latest natural disaster for Louisiana that is not getting nearly the attention one would think. This week, a huge sinkhole mysteriously opened up in Assumption Parish, Louisiana. This is no minor crevasse. We’re talking 526 feet by 640 feet. Assumption Parish is about fifty miles south of Baton Rouge. The sinkhole opened up in a forest area. Authorities are unsure what caused the sinkhole to appear, but it is widely speculated that it has something to do with salt caverns nearby. A mandatory evacuation order was issued for residents in the vicinity of the sinkhole, but only 60 percent of the population had heeded the order as of Thursday. However, authorities hope that more people will listen after a boat carrying workers cleaning up around the sinkhole was devoured. Fortunately, everyone was rescued without incident.
This could only be the beginning for the sinkhole, however. About 1500 feet from the sinkhole sits a butane well containing 1.5 million barrels of the liquid that becomes an extremely flammable vapor when released into the atmosphere. Authorities said that there are no plans to empty the well, mainly because it doesn’t seem there is any sort of plan in place for such a need. If the sinkhole continues to grow, as it has so far, albeit not nearly as pronounced as the opening itself, it could breach the well, allowing the butane to turn to vapor and be one spark away from a cataclysmic explosion.
How cataclysmic, you say? Louisiana has declared a state of emergency over it with experts saying that if the butane was indeed breached and somehow ignited, an explosion equivalent to 100 Hiroshima atom bombs could be unleashed. If that isn’t scary enough, it turns out that the Department of Natural Resources had permitted Texas Brine Company LLC (the LLC is very important) to pump radioactive waste into its salt cavern which is no defunct. So, the sinkhole also has people running scared with the thoughts of air pollution and radiation being released into the residents’ breathing air. So far, air monitoring stations continue to indicate that their is no danger, but as you might imagine, there are plenty of angry people down there, and they aren’t exactly known for trusting the government’s assessment of a natural disaster.
While the reports of how powerful such an explosion could be are jolting, it should be noted that a butane explosion would not technically be anything like a nuclear bomb. There would not be radiation damage (unless of course radioactive waste was involved, as could be a possibility). Temperatures would not get nearly as high, and the fireball would be smaller, but it would last longer. In any case, an ignition would be a natural disaster on the order of some of the worst that the country has endured.
There are still spotty reports about whether anyone knew about the sinkhole before it happened. Conspiracy theories are forming all over the place, but right now, nothing can be confirmed. It smells rotten, though, with the failing salt cavern so close to the sinkhole. The cavern’s collapse has been known and ongoing since 2010, so if it is the reason, you can expect plenty of finger-pointing at the people at Texas Brine. Until then, we can only hold our breath and wait to see if a breach will occur.