Honoré: Unsafe drilling practices should concern Louisiana residents

BAYOU CORNE, La. — Communities outside of Bayou Corne should care about what is happening at the sinkhole because the practices of some companies, such as Texas Brine, are dangerous to the environment and could ruin drinking water sources, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré said Friday.

Honoré was in Bayou Corne on Saturday to speak at a commemoration ceremony for the one-year anniversary of the forming of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole.

The sinkhole formed Aug. 3, 2012, covering nine acres at the time and causing about 150 families to evacuate.

Communities in the region have “great fresh water aquifers,” but are at risk due to oil and gas companies drilling through those aquifers, including the aquifer at Bayou Corne, Honoré said.

Texas Brine was drilling into an underground salt dome when the sinkhole formed.

“When you drill through those aquifers, any of that contaminated water that’s been used to flush the brine out … can get into the aquifer and destroy the aquifer,” Honoré said. “That’s not something that will just fix itself next week.”

In some cases, aquifers have been destroyed for the rest of their existence through that contamination, Honoré said.

In 2003, the community of Grand Bayou near Bayou Corne saw its aquifer compromised when a natural gas cavern released natural gas into the aquifer because a company did not follow proper safety standards, he said.

In 1980, a Texaco drilling rig punctured an underground salt cavern at Jefferson Island in New Iberia flooding the cavern and causing a whirlpool to form in Lake Peigneur. “Barges were sucked under in the salt dome,” Honoré said.

The Chicot Aquifer located at Jefferson Island serves 10 parishes. “The drilling company just got another permit to drill through it again. They use five million gallons of fresh water a day (from the aquifer) out at Lake Peigneur,” Honoré said.

Honoré got a request to come to Bayou Corne about a month ago and agreed to come on the condition that he would do so without accepting money from them or anyone else “because the cause is worth it once I became aware of what’s happening to them and that community and to the environment.”

Honoré said emphatically that he is not running for political office, but supporting the cause is about doing the right thing.

Texas Brine has the Louisiana legislature supporting it, Honoré said. “The Louisiana legislature does nothing about the environment. Their biggest concern is laws dealing with guns,” he said.

The state legislature wants to do something about guns every time it meets, but nothing about securing the state’s water supply or wetlands or the environment, Honore said. “They’re all about giving tax breaks to companies that don’t respect our environment.”

Honoré called the Environmental Protection Agency and finally got in touch with someone after a week of trying and was told under the Clean Water Act that it is up to states to make sure the water does not become contaminated, he said. “The federal government will only get involved if the state asks,” Honoré said.

In July, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is studying the best place to put a bypass preparing for the worst case scenario that the sinkhole will interfere with La. 70 and La. 69 making sections of those highways unsafe to travel, Honoré said.

Honoré has experienced first-hand the “stringent rules of the Clean Water Act,” which Congress wrote to monitor the country’s water supply, through his 37 years in the military, he said. “By the last 20 years, even if we just parked our military vehicles, like a Humvee or a tank, we had to put a bucket underneath it to make sure not even a drop at all would hit the federal land because it was a contaminant,” Honoré said. “To see what’s going on in Bayou Corne, this doesn’t match. We’ve got the Clean Water Act.”

Honoré is also concerned about the health issues the sinkhole has brought to the forefront, he said.

One of the residents took an informal count and of 80 homes in the area, 27 of those homes had people that were being treated for cancer or had died from cancer, Honoré said.

Honoré is trying to get someone from the state, the Centers for Disease Control, or Department of Health and Human Services to see if those agencies can look into that statistic. He was told it would be up to the state to look at that data.

Honoré said he is not a “super environmentalist” and drives a car that gets 14 miles per gallon. “I want to see our oil companies do well, but they’ve got to do it safe. They can’t be allowed to take that amount of risk and then be allowed to walk away from the mess they made,” he said.

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