Louisiana House Members Pass Bills Regulating Salt Mines

Two bills aimed at regulating salt dome operations were approved unanimously by the Louisiana House on Thursday, a day after some Bayou Corne residents were told an evacuation order will remain in place indefinitely due to the instability of a 15-acre sinkhole.

The legislation was prompted by the sinkhole in the swamps of Assumption Parish that officials say was caused by a collapsed underground salt cavern.

The measures by Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, and Sen. Rick Ward, D-Port Allen, would require stricter guidelines for monitoring and assessing areas around salt domes.

Among other things, one bill would call for surveying salt dome formations every five years. The other proposal would require legal notification of the location of underground caverns to prospective property owners.

“For this state as a whole, this will be the start of legislation that will address future issues that I hope never happens to you,” St. Germain said.

The bills head next to the Senate for debate.

The sinkhole was discovered in August and has resulted in an on-going evacuation order for 350 residents from 150 homes between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou area. The community is located about 40 miles south of Baton Rouge.

Residents have not been given the all-clear to return because of continued safety concerns. The sinkhole has continued to grow.

A committee of experts, assembled at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s request to study the sinkhole, told residents during a meeting Wednesday night that members didn’t know how long it would take for them to assess the stability of the area.

Many residents are seeking buyouts or settlements from Texas Brine Co., the Houston-based firm that mined the cavern.

“Their lives are still in limbo,” St. Germain said Thursday. “This event has caused a complete landscape change of this beautiful, scenic retirement area.”

A salt dome is a large, naturally occurring underground salt deposit. Companies drill on the dome’s outskirts to create caverns to extract brine used in the petrochemical refining process, or for storage of such things as hydrocarbons, which the age-harden salt prevents from seeping into the ground.

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, 120 salt domes are located throughout the state and about 270 solution mine caverns, 50 of which are no longer used.

The cavern failure released oil and natural gas, which authorities are continuing to monitor. A concentration of explosive gas was found under two houses and a shed in April.