In the Southern Louisiana town of Bayou Corne, a monster is growing. For over a year now, a colossal sinkhole – which, when last measured, spanned a grotesque 24 acres – has been wreaking havoc on not only local residents (who have been forced to evacuate), but the environment under which it lurks, as this recently captured footage makes shockingly clear.
First discovered in June of last year, the fathomless pit is believed to have formed when an underground salt dome, operated by Texas Brine Co., collapsed. When we say fathomless, by the way, that's not an exaggeration. Estimates put the swallow-hole's depth at upwards of 750 feet, though videos like this one, shot just two days ago, illustrate the incomprehensible nature of its vertical extent (Spoiler: you can skip to the last few seconds of this video – it takes a looooooong time for this spool to unreel. Which it does. Completely.):
Earlier this month, Mother Jones published this captivating exposé on the sinkhole, wherein Tim Murphy expounds on its formation:
The company specializes in a process known as injection mining, and it had sunk a series of wells deep into the salt dome, flushing them out with high-pressure streams of freshwater and pumping the resulting saltwater to the surface. From there, the brine is piped and trucked to refineries along the Mississippi River and broken down into sodium hydroxide and chlorine for use in manufacturing everything from paper to medical supplies.
What happened in Bayou Corne, as near as anyone can tell, is that one of the salt caverns Texas Brine hollowed out — a mine dubbed Oxy3 — collapsed. The sinkhole initially spanned about an acre. Today it covers more than 24 acres and is an estimated 750 feet deep. It subsists on a diet of swamp life and cypress trees, which it occasionally swallows whole.
The sinkhole has since forced the entire town of Bayou Corne to evacuate – and it doesn't take a geophysicist to understand why.
"When you keep drilling over and over and over again, whether it's into bedrock or into salt caverns, at some point you have fractured the integrity of this underground structure enough that something is in danger of collapsing," ecologist Sandra Steingraber told MoJo. An entire township, for example. The state of Louisiana has since filed a lawsuit against Texas Brine.
It bears mentioning that this is not the first time industry and nature have collided in Southern Louisiana, only to give rise to a titanic sinkhole. On November 20th, 1980, the collapse of the Jefferson Island Salt Mine – precipitated by a wrongly deployed drill bit – turned the shallow, freshwater Lake Peigneur into a briny abyss.
Just 90 brief minutes after the drill struck the mine, the drilling crew, who had abandoned their rig, watched from shore as their 150-foot derrick was swallowed up by a lake that was less than 10 feet deep. The same fate soon fell upon several heavy-duty barges, a tugboat and four fully loaded flatbed trucks. By the next day, the sinkhole had devoured 64 acres of Jefferson Island itself. The catastrophe was so large, it caused the normally outflowing Delcambre Canal to reverse directions, temporarily creating the biggest waterfall in the state of Louisiana.