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Jindal's Sinkhole Visit Churns Up Oily Memories

Nearly nine months after the Assumption Parish sinkhole appeared near Bayou Corne, Gov. Bobby Jindal visited the site of the slurry mess and displaced residents on Tuesday. During the appearance, the gov reiterated points that he made last week about buyouts for residents, and planning in case a second nearby cavern starts to give way. But it seems rolling up his sleeves back home in the bayous of Louisiana may have also made the governor nostalgic. As Jindal told it at an afternoon press conference, the Sinkhole Saga suddenly started to have hints of the Big Oozy.



The sinkhole appeared August 3, 2012, after a subsurface cavern owned by Texas Brine LLC  collapsed. For months, Louisianans and even Erin Brockovich have struggled to figure out what exactly brine is, and why there are caves in Cajun Country that we haven't yet sent Werner Herzog to explore.


Jindal's long-awaited visit confirmed that this disaster is indeed related to the  energy industry. Perhaps he was still feeling the effects of Sunday's car accident. Maybe the BP trial is giving the gov pause to look back. It could just be that all of the energy industry's boondoggles are just starting to bleed together. Whatever the case, some of the same language used during the BP oil disaster suddenly flowed forth upon the gov's arrival.


First, there was the scale of the thing. In a state where leaders are proud to hold the citizens up as the masters of disaster, the sinkhole has lingered off to stage right as the bearded lady of calamity when compared to the lion's roar of Katrina and BP. Yet, during Tuesday's press conference Jindal trotted out language that indicated this could be the worst sinkhole in our nation's history.


"(Assumption Parish President) Marty (Triche) said this is unprecedented for Assumption Parish," Jindal said. "I dont think this has happened anywhere in terms of the failure of the cavern wall. That's why it is so important to not only make this right, but to make sure this doesn't happen again."


The Republican governor even mentioned new bills to be proposed in the legislative session that would put regulations on caverns.


"We're going to support that legislation," Jindal said. 


Key to determining the scope of the disaster is the number of moving parts. Or, rather, moving gas. Jindal announced Tuesday that the sinkhole once again burped at 3 a.m. on Sunday, leading to another in a series of "slough ins," meaning trees and Earth were swallowed by the giant slurry mess. The sinkhole must have been eating at some of the same spots as the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon, as the latest belch seems to have produced a mystery oil puddle similar to the slick that keeps bubbling up on the surface of the Gulf.


"As soon as it's safe for (Texas Brine) to do so, they do need to get out there and start skimming again," Jindal said. "We do have a sheen."


The burp came after days of increased seismic activity, but the reason for all the bad manners remain a mystery, according to state officials. No matter what the cause was, however, containment and cleanup are a necessity. The latest disaster sees Jindal going back to an old friend of a plan. Just like in 2010, the gov stressed the need to build a giant berm to keep hazardous materials from the sinkhole from polluting the environment. The berm may not quite be the size of a barrier island like Jindal proposed to stop oil during the BP disaster, but the 123,488 cubic yards of sand and 3,416 tons of limestone aren't too shabby for Bayou Corne. The berm is expected to be completed in late May.


Those walls may help the environment, but the late spring finish will likely be of little consequence to the 250 residents that were forced from their homes when the nearby nature collapsed, and the sinkhole forced a state of emergency. Texas Brine was waiting on legal documents to begin the process of offering buyouts to a group of residents who have expressed interest, but after a meeting with the gov last week the company was suddenly set to press ahead.


Upon meeting with the residents Tuesday, Jindal's mind apparently drifted once again to 2010. In those grave hours, one such life was uprooted above all other. BP CEO Tony Hayward wanted his life back, just like the people of Bayou Corne.


"In an ideal world, they don't want a check from Texas Brine, they want their lives back," Jindal said of the residents. "They'd much rather this never happened in the first place. They're not looking for anything other than to get their lives back."


On second thought, perhaps the two cases aren't quite the same.

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