Environmental stories are always a little bit tricky. Because they carry such heavy morals we often extend or withhold our credulity without regard for the available information. What we want to believe plays a larger role than what makes sense.
Such was my experience with the Louisiana Sinkhole. I first heard about the story some months ago and was hooked. I had visions of a giant abyss opening its jaws to engulf a peaceful hamlet: cows with bells went tumbling down into the darkness followed by a few wailing children and a pitiful old lady who may have been unaware of her grim fate.
As I read more about the story, I discovered that my vision was a little off the mark. There were no cowbells nor any pitiful old ladies, not even a wayward duck hunter or alligator. The sinkhole in Assumption Parish, Louisiana looks like a pond or maybe a small lake. It looks more like a backed-up toilet than an awesome environmental catastrophe.
In my research, however, I did come across an article that said that the sinkhole was caused by a salt cavern that collapsed because it was being used to store fracking waste. Now, says I to my disappointed self, doesn’t that sound like a waste story?
The particular story I found was by someone named TXSharon on a blog called Blue Daze. Admittedly the blog is one of which I should have been skeptical. I find it an ever-increasing challenge to sift the many credible and more incredible sources on the internet, and in this case, I found one that was telling me exactly what I wanted to hear, so we added Assumption Parish to our list of places to visit.
We drove past the sinkhole, which is only 1200 feet from LA-70, without really seeing it. The only way we knew we were passing the infamous gaping maw was that there were a lot of construction signs and vehicles hanging around the road in what was otherwise the middle of a swamp.
We asked at a gas station and spoke with several other people but no one seemed to have much of an idea what was going on, and nobody knew what caused the sinkhole. On our second or third pass by the sinkhole, we noticed the Emergency Command Center outside Bayou Corne.
Office of Emergency Preparedness Director John Boudreaux was standing in front of the Command Center giving an interview to a local television station. We tagged along and approached Mr Boudreaux afterwards. In response to our explanation of our interest in the sinkhole (waste), Mr Boudreaux said that there really wasn’t any waste component to the story.
Fracking waste was not being stored in the cavern. Mr Boudreaux thought perhaps the rumors about fracking waste came from people calling the phenomenon that produced the sinkhole a ‘frack-out‘, a process where underground liquids are forced upwards, fracturing the rock. The cavern was used for creating a product called brine which is a component in the manufacture of chlorine.
So: no garbage. It’s not a shocker, really. Perhaps it is simply a sign of my naivete, but I find it interesting how easily I was swayed by sloppy commentary. Accuracy is a challenge for everyone on the internet, but it requires special attention when writing about emotionally charged issues.
There isn’t always someone who knows the answer to our questions, but in the case of the Louisiana Sinkhole, we were lucky to run into the excellent Mr Boudreaux. If you are interested in the Louisiana Sinkhole, I recommend following the parish’s blog.