A possible breach of a butane-filled well 1500 feet from Bayou Corne’s sinkhole, the size of three football fields, is so “very serious,” it has Assumption Parish sheriff and local residents ordered to evacuate worried about a catastrophic explosion, one according to scientists in an Examiner investigation, would be in the range of one and a half B83 thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs, the most powerful United States weapons in active service.
“The disaster is made all the more worrisome because the hole is believed to be close to a well containing 1.5 million barrels of liquid butane, a highly volatile liquid that turns into a highly flammable vapor upon release,” CNN reported Friday about Louisiana’s declared State of Emergency.
Earlier it was reported the butane-filled well is only 1500 feet from the sinkhole and it will not be emptied.
A breach of that well, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said, could be “catastrophic,” CNN reports.
If ignited, the butane well would release as much explosive energy as 100 Hiroshima bombs, Deborah Dupré’s scientist sources told her Sunday.
Friday, officials went door-to-door in the Bayou Corn area to complete questionnaires, including next of kin contact details of locals at home after the mandatory evacuation orders, as Fox News reported, while ABC reported, “If any of the dangers seem to become more imminent,” the present mandatory order will be “escalated to a forced evacuation.”
Some residents of Louisiana’s cultural gumbo of Assumption Parish think dangers are more imminent now, despite state Department of Health & Hospitals Office of Public Health officials’ letter to parish officials about air and water testing data.
“Based on their testing, it doesn’t appear that chemical exposure of site-related contaminants pose a public health risk in the immediate area of Bayou Corne,” parish officials said.
Since Saturday, disaster workers are required to wear respirators, although the public within the disaster area is not.
Government cover up continues angering residents and elected leaders
“You can give us a straight answer because that’s all we want,” a woman said at the community meeting Tuesday. “We want to know when we can come home and be safe. Because you all go home after a days work. You’re safe, but we’re not,” she said, expressing sentiments of other locals with whom Dupré has spoken.
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) put air-monitoring stations around the area to measure LELs (lower explosive limits) and say no radiation danger exists, although all test sample results will not be available until later this week. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had quietly permitted Texas Brine Company LLC to pump radioactive waste into its now failing cavern near the sinkhole DNR also hid documents showing that cavern may have had problems since 2010.
Last week, Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, said he wants more transparency and answers from the Office of Conservation. Like many leaders angered that DNR officials hid documents about the failing brine cavern near both sinkhole and butane well, Harrison had no idea about structural issues within the brine cavern until reading this in the paper, according to Fox News.
Environmental attorney Stuart Smith said last week he believes nothing officials are saying about this mounting disaster.
Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) reports that, in addition to over twelve areas in and around Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou having “waters rolling from escaping methane, ethane, and propane,” locals have also reported tremors and houses shifting.
Local fear and frustration are exacerbated because no local is allowed in “operation/status” meetings, as in the ongoing BP oil “spill” catastrophe, and because officials have not publicly released estimated effects from the possible butane explosion, including secondary explosions of nearby fossil fuels, information urgently needed by locals, emergency responders and nearby oil and gas facilities’s workers.
Assumption Parish, an oil refinery haven in the heart of the nation’s Cancer Alley, is crisscrossed with oil and gas pipelines.
Potential butane explosive capacity calculated
The 1.5 million barrels of liquid butane 1500 feet from the sinkhole has an explosive capacity of 100 Hiroshima nuclear bombs, 1.5 times the explosive force of the largest thermonuclear weapon in current service in the U.S., according to Wikipedia scientific data and popular citizen reporter, Dutchsince, and confirmed by Dupré’s sources this weekend.
Excluding secondary oil and gas pipeline and refinery explosions, direct effects of such a single bomb blast in Bayou Corne, fifty miles from Baton Rouge, would include Donaldsonville, Louisiana, according to NUKEMAP simulations showing an H-bomb this size would produce:
“Fire-ball radius: (central orange circle): 0.62 km / 0.39 mi. Maximum size of the nuclear fireball; relevance to lived effects depends on height of detonation.
“Air blast radius: 3.8 km / 2.1 mi (red shaded circle) 20 psi overpressure; heavily built concrete buildings are severely damaged or demolished; fatalities approach 100%
“Air blast radius: 8.93 km / 5.55 mi (gray shaded circle) 4.6 psi overpressure; most buildings collapse; injuries universal, fatalities widespread.
“Thermal radiation radius: 15.18 km / 9.43 mi (outer orange shaded circle) Third-degree burns to all exposed skin; starts fires in flammable materials, contributes to firestorm if large enough.”
Note: Butane explosion effects would differ from H-bomb effects two ways: 1) It would take much longer and have insignificant radiation damage; 2) Temperatures reached would be lower, so the fireball, thermal radiation, and air blast radii would be smaller, but all three longer-lasting.
Breathing butane is hazardous. In the unlikely case that the butane was released but not ignited, Wikipedia explains butane properties as: “Inhalation of butane can cause euphoria, drowsiness, narcosis, asphyxia, cardiac arrhythmia, temporary memory loss and frostbite, which can result in death from asphyxiation and ventricular fibrillation.
Government and non-government organizations have different speculations about disaster source
Friday, Louisiana State Police, Assumption Parish Police Jury, and Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office leaders spoke in Pierre Part about the Bayou Corne area disaster, saying they don’t know its cause that has resulted in evacuees unable to return home for at least another month.
Officials uncertain what caused the sinkhole suspect Texas Brine Company LLC’s salt cavern. Dr. Madhurendu Kumar, DNR director of the state’s oil and gas division, said the sinkhole could have been caused by structural problems in Texas Brine’s salt dome beneath it.
“The wall of salt between the brine cavern and the salt dome might be thinner than experts were led to believe,” Kumar said, according to Associated Press.
As government officials continue focusing on the brine cavern and sinkhole, non-government environmentalists and human rights defenders say the disaster root is neither cavern or sinkhole.
LEAN explained late last week why they believe Texas Brine’s salt cavern near the sinkhole is not the source of the problem that has caused gas bubbles percolate in the swampland and bayous for over two months.
USGS maps show extra movement and stress from oil and gas operations are susceptible to present pressure of a series of earthquakes west of Louisiana, each being where fracking and frack waste injection storage are ongoing.
(Watch “8/11/2012 — Louisiana Sink Hole Explained — POSSIBLE HUGE CATASTROPHE — 100 Hiroshimas” YouTube video by Dutchsinse embedded on the left of this page.)
“This is extremely serious,” Kim Torres, spokeswoman for the Office of Emergency Preparedness, told ABCNews.com Friday. “The people are very aware of how serious this is.”
Among the majority of residents worrying but choosing to not abide by the mandatory evacuation orders, local resident Mr. Landry told CNN Friday, “We kind of feel that if something drastic were to happen, we could jump in a car and get out of here.”
The White House has remained silent about Louisiana’s most recent oil and gas disaster.
Paul Brown, Ph.D., contributed to this article.
Other sources: ABC News, CNN, Fox News, Dutchsince, Nukemap, Examiner.com
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Three vent wells already are burning off gas, and Texas Brine officials have plans to link flaring equipment on Monday to a fourth existing well that is being converted to the gas-removal process, company and parish officials said.
Workers initially found the wells’ perforations — small holes in the well casing that allow gas to flow inside the well bore — were clogged with clay. But since early November, drillers have been able to remove water inside the wells to get the gas to come up, or they reworked the clogged wells and added more perforations, officials said.
Texas Brine got the first well to start burning gas Nov. 2 south of La. 70 S.
Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure, the Louisiana Office of Conservation’s agent in the sinkhole response, has gotten two wells to burn gas since then, including one on Thursday north of La 70, parish officials said in a blog post.
“And, hopefully, the sooner they can get it stabilized,” he said.
The Office of Conservation has ordered Texas Brine to take over the vent well operations and add more wells. Boudreaux said two new vent well sites have also been proposed, though routes to the sites are still being developed.
The gas was released into the Mississippi River Alluvial Aquifer after a Texas Brine salt cavern failed in August, and since then, the gas has permeated even-shallower sediments.
The cavern inside but near the western edge of the Napoleonville Dome underwent a “wall breach” several thousand feet underground, scientists believe. That failure set off a chain of events suspected of causing the sinkhole to emerge and releasing to the surface gas and crude oil naturally occurring in pockets along the edge of the dome.
Officials said that the gas freed by the cavern collapse now poses an uncertain risk to Bayou Corne residents who have been evacuated from their residences for more than three months. Meanwhile, officials have called for in-home air monitoring and specialized detectors and ventilation systems for slab-foundation homes.
Sonny Cranch, spokesman for Houston-based Texas Brine, said virtually all residents who picked up housing assistance checks Thursday from the company and own slab homes in the evacuation zone filled out forms allowing the new equipment to be installed on their property.
The evacuation order, affecting about 150 homes in the Grand Bayou and Bayou Corne communities, was issued within hours of the discovery of the sinkhole, though the presence of the gas now provides another reason to keep the order in place, parish officials have said
The sinkhole, which now has an 8-acre surface area, is located in swamps between the communities south of La. 70 on property leased by Texas Brine from Occidental Chemical Corp.
Boudreaux provided estimates showing the three vent wells had released 558,000 cubic feet of gas through Friday morning.
An investigatory well that the Office of Conservation ordered Texas Brine to drill months ago to peer inside its failed cavern has burned another 598,000 cubic feet of gas through early Friday.
Combined with the three vent wells, the four wells have removed nearly 1.2 million cubic feet of gas, the figures show.
By comparison, a gas release in late 2003 into the subsurface near the Grand Bayou community from a storage cavern inside the salt dome prompted the eventual installation of 36 vent wells. They removed 375 million cubic feet of gas before they were shut down in 2004, Office of Conservation officials have said.
Office of Conservation officials have said the 2003 incident is not comparable to the current incident because the 2003 gas was at much higher pressures than the pressures produced in the recently drilled Bayou Corne vent wells.
The well that Texas Brine is trying to convert to gas removal, however, has hit gas at 155 pounds per square inch, higher than the gas pressure in other vent wells, Cranch said.
But the higher-pressure well, which reaches down 430 feet, extends 300 feet deeper than the much shallower vent wells recently brought on line.
Cranch said company officials do not know yet if the higher pressure is related to a sizeable amount of gas or the greater depth of the well. Pressures increase at depth.
But he said Texas Brine is waiting on flaring equipment that can handle the higher pressure.
The well originally was bored to the caprock over the salt dome and under Texas Brine’s site as a means of installing seismic equipment, but that plan was halted when drillers hit gas.
Cranch said company officials do not know if that gas comes from a natural pocket or from the latest incident.
“Whatever it is, it’s going to be vented,” Cranch said.