Wednesday, August 14, 2013


About once a month, the residents of Bayou Corne, Louisiana, meet at the Assumption Parish library in the early evening to talk about the hole in their lives. "It was just like going through cancer all over again," says one. "You fight and you fight and you fight and you think, 'Doggone it, I've beaten this thing,' and then it's back." Another spent last Thanksgiving at a 24-hour washateria because she and her disabled husband had nowhere else to go. As the box of tissues circulates, a third woman confesses that after 20 years of sobriety she recently testified at a public meeting under the influence.

"The God of my understanding says, 'As you sow, so shall you reap,'" says Kenny Simoneaux, a balding man in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt. He has instructed his grandchildren to lock up the ammunition. "I'm so goddamn mad I could kill somebody."

But the support group isn't for addiction, PTSD, or cancer, though all of these maladies are present. The hole in their lives is a literal one. One night in August 2012, after months of unexplained seismic activity and mysterious bubbling on the bayou, a sinkhole opened up on a plot of land leased by the petrochemical company Texas Brine, forcing an immediate evacuation of Bayou Corne's 350 residents—an exodus that still has no end in sight. Last week, Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the company and the principal landowner, Occidental Chemical Corporation, for damages stemming from the cavern collapse.
The article by Tim Murphy at Mother Jones is excellent, one of the best of the accounts I've read of the events that led up to the sinkhole collapse, its increase in size, and the consequences that followed for the people who live or once lived in the area.  Since south Louisiana sits upon many hollowed-out salt caverns, which are often used to store natural gas and oil, with some of the oil containing radioactive materials, the question is not if, but when a similar disaster will happen.

Lax regulation and lack of oversight of the dangerous operations of oil and gas and chemical companies here in Louisiana contribute to the number of disasters.  When will we have had enough of the disasters to pass more rigorous safety regulations and provide timely inspections and stiffer penalties for companies who break safety rules?  When will we have had enough to get serious here in Louisiana about research and development in clean energy sources and provision of tax incentives for businesses that provide clean energy and for factories that manufacture equipment for use in supplying clean energy?  

I'm not holding my breath.