State officials explain why emergency declaration was issued over concerns of stability at Sulphur salt caverns

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 6:27 PM CDT
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SULPHUR, La. (KPLC) - An emergency declaration regarding the stability of Sulphur’s salt dome has many asking what’s happening and whether they should be worried.

For many, this brings to mind the 2012 collapse of a salt dome in Assumption Parish. Video of the massive 25-acre Bayou Corne Sinkhole headlined national news 11 years ago.

Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said the emergency declaration issued for Sulphur’s salt caverns Wednesday was out of an abundance of caution.

“Two caverns on the west side of the Sulphur mine salt dome that we are seeing warning signals from that indicate to us something is going on down there that we need to get a better understanding of,” DNR Communications Director Patrick Courreges said.

Problems surfaced in January, so why are we hearing about it nine months later? Courreges said that’s because as individual issues, they didn’t cause much concern, but when several arise at the same time, that’s when the alarms were sounded.

“What we are seeing with that subsidence was kind of the last straw,” Courreges said. “Around salt domes, natural gas bubbling up around the edge of them, that happens, that can be natural. A cavern losing its mechanical integrity, in which case, it can’t hold pressure, those things can happen.”

The emergency declaration allows officials to work faster by expanding their authority and access to funding.

We’re told the Bayou Corne Sinkhole is used as a learning tool. Courreges said firmer regulations and earlier detection will help mitigate the severity. He also said the issues detected in Sulphur are far less than those in Assumption Parish in 2012, where people felt tremors for months before the salt dome collapsed.

“We’re not seeing any of that big movement, so we are hoping we’re catching this at a time where we can do something about it if anything can be done,” Courreges said. He also said people should consider this a yellow flag for now, not yet a red flag warning.

The Department of Natural Resources is currently reaching out to local officials to make them aware of what’s going on, and then professionals will assess the situation.