Stronger rules proposed for using salt domes

Published: Nov. 26, 2013 at 11:44 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 27, 2013 at 12:22 AM CST
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The State Department of Natural Resources proposes new regulations to deal with salt dome caverns  to prevent collapses like the one in Assumption Parish causing the giant sinkhole.

Most people in Southwest Louisiana, who live near salt domes, feel safe and secure. Yet at least one local environmentalist warns it's only a matter of time before there are problems.

In Hackberry, the U.S. Department of Energy has the Strategic Petroleum Reserve where the federal government stockpiles oil.  That's in case there's ever an interruption in the availability of crude that could threaten our economy or national security.
For the most part,  there have never been any concerns stemming from the operation-- except a fire in 1978 that experts say would not likely happen today.

But in other cases, there are salt domes where the underground salt structure may have walls not so thick...and it's those situations the regulations address.

For years,  local environmentalist Mike Tritico has raised concerns about storing things in underground salt formations.

"I think it's long overdue (stronger regulations).  These things have a history of failing Mont Belview, Texas; Lake Peigneur, Assumption Parish," said Tritico.

There's been extraction of oil, gas, brine or sulfur from the Sulphur mines salt dome since the 19th century.  And there are caverns with walls much thinner than the 300 feet proposed.

Patrick Courreges is the spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

"On the northeast corner of the salt dome, the portion of the cavern approaches 20 feet to edge of salt, the side wall of the cavern is within about 20 feet of edge of salt," said Courreges.

But Courreges says those caverns are plugged or inactive.  And that Axial has verified the caverns are structurally sound. He says problems can be detected before there's a disaster.

"You get months of warning signs if you know what to look for," said Courreges.

He says with the Bayou Corne situation there were tremors, and natural gas leaks.

Still, Tritico says if his home were over a salt dome, he'd keep a close eye on  information available from the state.

"I didn't know the cavern in Sulphur was within 20 feet of the edge.  That's very disturbing," said Tritico.

The public has until December 6th to comment on proposed changes to strengthen the regulations.

For more information click here. 

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