Sunday, December 16, 2012

Landowners may get a few bucks from tracking for natural gas but may not be able to live in their homes anymore

Sierra Club - Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

Dear Aubrey,
Send Your Letter Today -- Tell President Obama to Protect Our Communities from Fracking!

Take Action!
Send Your Letter
Did you know that even though you could own the land on which your home is built, you might not own what lies underneath? Countless people in communities in the west are experiencing that right now.

You would think that our communities should automatically be a no frack-zone, but there's a lot going on below the surface. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is leasing mineral rights to natural gas companies even though our communities may sit directly above the natural gas.

So who should be protected? The millions of people who live in these communities, breathe the air, and may even rely on ground water for their drinking water? Or the interests of companies that have bought mineral rights so they can profit even more?

Let's get 30,000 letters to President Obama by Wednesday telling him to protect our communities from natural gas drilling and to pass strong rules for drilling on public lands. Send your letter today.

Right now, the White House and BLM are taking another look at their outdated rules for fracking on over 750 million acres of public, private, and Native lands. This is your opportunity to make sure protecting our air, water, and public health are the first things BLM must commit to before allowing any fracking to move forward.

The natural gas industry wants as little oversight as possible, but we know fracking shouldn't be allowed in our backyards or playgrounds, that open pits of fracking chemicals are dangerous, and that companies need to publicly disclose the toxic chemicals in their secret fracking "cocktails". Now is the time to tell the White House that the rights of people who live in communities above or near these leased mineral areas -- the right to clean air and clean water -- are what should guide any proposed rules for fracking.

Will you tell President Obama to put health of your community comes first? With millions of people at risk, we cannot afford to get this wrong.

Thanks for all that you do to protect the environment,

Deb Nardone
Director, Beyond Natural Gas Campaign
Sierra Club

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pennsylvania officials unwilling to share results of study of gas and oil production dangers to health

Regulators Under Fire for Keeping Fracking Pollution Test Results Under Wraps

Tuesday, 11 December 2012 11:46By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report
PA GAS BOOM mainAnn and Eric Nordell worry about the impact of shale gas drilling on their farm, Beech Grove Organic, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Niko J. Kallianiotis / The New York Times)Residents living in the shadow of fracking rigs say they've suffered from headaches, nosebleeds and other health effects since drilling began in their communities. Meanwhile, state agencies refuse to release the results of air and water pollution tests.
Thirty years ago, Jenny and Tom Lisak moved into a historic farmhouse in Pennsylvania's rural Jefferson County. The couple raised three children there and established a certified organic farm they named LadyBug Farm.
"When living in the country, your time is marked by nature and each season comes with its own smells, sounds and colors," Jenny Lisak recently told environmental researchers. "But those colors have faded and our wellbeing, livelihood and dreams are now threatened."
The trouble started when the oil and gas boom hit Jefferson County and rolled into the Lisak's neighborhood. First came the trucks carrying equipment and supplies in a stream of constant traffic; then oil and gas wells were drilled near LadyBug farm.
The Lisaks say they experienced frequent headaches, fatigue sore throats and eye and nose irritation. After the state issued a permit for an open-air impound pit to store drilling waste next to LadyBug Farm, the family has had trouble sleeping and experienced stress and anxiety.
Facilitated by enhanced drilling techniques known as "fracking," an ongoing oil and gas rush is rapidly industrializing rural Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Since 2005, 20,000 conventional wells and 5,700 "unconventional" wells, which employ controversial new fracking techniques, have been established in Pennsylvania.
The boom has generated big profits and boosted domestic fossil fuel production, but a growing list of environmental and health concerns have made fracking one of the nation's top environmental controversies.
The boom hit Pennsylvania hard and early, and now people like the Lisaks have health problems they say were nonexistent before the frackers arrived.
Scientists are only beginning to uncover the relationship between reported health problems and fracking, and environmentalists claim the industry and state government have refused to consider the issue.
Pennsylvania lawmakers recently stripped $2 million in funding that had been earmarked for researching and tracking drilling-related health problems from landmark oil and gas legislation. The state's environmental protection agency recently has come under fire from residents and a state lawmaker who say the agency is hiding air quality monitoring data from the public and failing to provide complete lab results to residents who fear that fracking has contaminated their drinking water.
Fracking Air Pollution Linked to Health Problems
A recent, in-depth survey by the environmental group Earthworks found that contaminants are present in the communities near fracking operations, and many residents have developed health problems they did not have before. The most commonly reported symptoms include tremors, dizziness and irritation of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. These symptoms correlate to chemicals used in fracking, like benzene and volatile organic compounds, and suggest a "strong possibility" that oil and gas drilling is causing health problems, according the report.
Residents living closer to drilling operations reported health symptoms at higher rates. The survey found that 56 percent of children living within 1,500 feet of facilities reported nosebleeds. On average, children surveyed reported an average of 19 health symptoms that are not normally found in healthy kids.
In addition, 80 percent of respondents said they "sometimes" or "frequently" smelled bad odors.
"I strongly object to being forced to breathe toxic fumes and other unhealthy conditions, and to my family facing the possibility of one day becoming refugees from our own home," said Lisak, who participated in the survey.
Earthworks contends the findings raise serious questions about statements made by the fracking industry and its supporters. The industry is known for dismissing health impact claims as "personal anecdotes," and people living near drilling operations often are told that their health problems are likely due to other factors like lifestyle choices and family disease history, according to the report.
Regulators Accused of Hiding Test Results From the Public
On May 25, the Cornerstone Care community clinic in Pennsylvania's Washington County was temporarily shut down after being evacuated three times. Gusts of fumes had invaded the clinic for weeks, filling the building with nauseating odors and making patients and health care workers sick. The clinic remained closed until early July.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) investigated the odors at the clinic and determined that the fumes could not be linked to oil and gas drilling; but the agency has refused to hand over 400 pages of raw testing and quality control data to a concerned lawmaker.
State Rep. Jesse White, a Washington County Democrat, requested the records to share with independent scientists and researchers after the clinic shut down, but the state DEP denied his request.
White then filed a Right to Know request under Pennsylvania's sunshine law, but the agency said it was not required to hand over the records because they were part of a "non-criminal" investigation. White is quick to point out that, despite the non-criminal exemption, the agency could legally release the records if it chose to do so Pennsylvania DEP spokesperson Kevin Sunday told Truthout the agency refused to hand over the data to maintain the "confidentiality" of the air monitoring investigation, but did not explain why such data must be kept from public view.
"To date, the DEP has still refused to release the 400 pages of raw data, which is troubling for a variety of reasons," White wrote in a December 6 letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer. "Unless and until you release this data, I will continue to have serious concerns about DEP's commitment to transparency and openness in its operations."
White also wants to know why the DEP has withheld certain sets of test results from residents who believe their drinking water is contaminated by fracking.
Last year, samples from a Pennsylvania resident's drinking water were taken to a state lab to determine if the water had been contaminated by nearby fracking activity. The lab tested the water for 24 contaminants as required by federal standards, but the results for only eight of them were reported to the resident and the DEP's oil and gas division.
Kendra Smith, an attorney representing the resident in a lawsuit against the DEP, sent a letter to Krancer alleging that his agency uses a "deliberate procedure" to withhold critical water test results from the public.
Tara Upadhyay, the technical director for the state lab where the water was tested, had confirmed in a sworn deposition that the water samples were tested for a full set of contaminants, but the lab only reported the results for eight heavy metals.
Upadhyay said that DEP field agents provide a "suite code" for lab tests that specifies which of the test results should be reported. Smith's client, for example, received test results for barium, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and strontium. The lab tested for 16 other contaminants; including boron, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, silicon, lithium, molybdenum and others, but the results of these tests were not reported to the resident or the oil and gas commission.
Several of the metals that were not reported to the resident are found in fracking waste water, Smith wrote, and many of them are carcinogenic or otherwise hazardous to human health. Smith demanded that Krancer review the procedure of using suite codes and urged the agency to share more crucial information with the public.
Smith's accusations angered Rep. White, who was already frustrated with DEP for withholding the air quality monitoring data from the Cornerstone clinic. The state lawmaker demanded an investigation to determine if "someone belongs in a jail cell."
"This is beyond outrageous. Anyone who relied on the DEP for the truth about whether their water has been impacted by drilling activities has apparently been intentionally deprived of critical health and safety information by their own government," White said in November. "There is no excuse whatsoever to justify the DEP conducting the water tests and only releasing partial information to residents, especially when the information withheld could easily be the source of the problem."
Secretary Krancer quickly defending the "suite code" procedure in a letter to White. Krancer stated that the industry has used the procedure to identify drilling contamination since 1991, and similar procedures are used in other states.
"Although other results are generated by the lab tests, such results would not contribute to answering the question at hand - determining whether there is a connection between gas well activities and the water supply," Krancer wrote.
Krancer added that, in the particular investigation in question, the levels of contaminants that were not reported to regulators and the concerned resident were below the maximum concentration allowed by law.
The controversy raged in the Pennsylvania media for weeks. Experts weighed in, telling media outlets that the "suite code" procedure is an industry standard, but agreed with White that, regardless of whether oil and gas drilling is to blame for water contamination, the people who drink and use the water could benefit from access to the full spectrum of test results.
Wilma Subra, a lead researcher behind the Earthworks report that linked fracking to health problems in Pennsylvania, told Truthout that communities near fracking operations are at a disadvantage because they do not have the resources to pay for extensive testing and monitoring. For this reason, communities deserve to have access to all available data. The industry enjoys this privilege, Subra said, but communities often do not.
DEP officials continue to defend the procedure, arguing that the agency is simply doing its job - determining if fracking has caused water contamination.
White is not backing down. On December 6, the lawmaker once again demanded the air quality monitoring data from the Cornerstone clinic investigation and raised more question about water testing procedures.
"The DEP's ultimate explanation for leaving thousands of Pennsylvanians in the dark over the safety of their water is to say, 'That's just the way we do it around here, so tough luck,'" White said. "And I don't believe I'm alone when I call that brand of callous disregard for transparency and accountability unnerving and unacceptable."
Earthworks and researchers like Subra recommend that regulations be strengthened in Pennsylvania and other areas hit hard by the oil and gas boom. Public health should play a central role in permitting fracking and other industrial activities, and regulators and the industry should conduct health impact studies to identify potential problems before drilling begins.
When it comes to public health, they argue, the burden of proof should be on the oil and gas industry and its regulators, and not on the communities living in the shadows of fracking rigs.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.


Mike Ludwig is a Truthout reporter. Follow Mike on Twitter @ludwig_mike.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2012

    Tar Sands mass action in Texas attracting Arkansas activists

    There's some talk of getting together to go to Texas for this mass action at Tar Sands.  If you're interested, drop a note in the inbox and I'll add you to the list.  Interesting short news about it below.
    Gladys TiffanyOMNI Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology"OMNI Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology actively educates, empowers and connects
     to build a nonviolent, sustainable, and just world"
    3274 No. Lee Ave, Fayetteville, Arkansas USA
    479-935-4422  --

    ----- Forwarded Message -----
    From: "Eric Moll, Tar Sands Blockade"
    To: Gladys  
    Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 4:25 PM
    Subject: Mass Action and Training Camp, Jan. 3-8th - RSVP Today

    A few weeks ago I was arrested for locking myself to Keystone XL heavy machinery and helping stop construction for most of the day. I had never done direct action before, 
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    A few weeks ago I was arrested for locking myself to Keystone XL heavy machinery and helping stop construction for most of the day. I had never done direct action before, but at Tar Sands Blockade’s last Mass Action and training camp, I got the skills and legal knowledge to take action. I invite you to join our next Mass Action and Training Camp in Southeast Texas, January 3-8th. 
    You don’t have to risk arrest – there are plenty of equally vital roles for everyone.Whether you’re an experienced activist or you’ve never participated in direct action before, come get the skills and take action to stop KXL!

    I had long been searching for a sense of efficacy, a way to feel like I was actively resisting the desecration of my environment rather than just sitting on the sidelines and watching the world fall apart – and I finally found it at Tar Sands Blockade’s Mass Action. Afterward, I joined the campaign full-time and now I’m helping to organize the next Mass Action and Training Camp to empower more people to make a difference. 

    The best part of the action was that it wasn’t just me – I was joined by 120 other people, many of whom were local community members defending their homes from toxic tar sands. Even when I was in jail, I never felt alone. I knew I was being supported by a loving community of tireless, dedicated activists. If I learned anything, it is that together, we can stop this pipeline.

    Our campaign began with a tree-sit, and since then we’ve consistently employed new and innovative tactics to escalate, whether that means hunger striking in Houston to get Valero to divest from KXL and stop poisoning the residents of Manchester, or blockading the pipe itself to halt construction.
    January’s Mass Action will be no exception – it’s going to be unlike anything we’ve done before, and with your help we can make it a truly massive and overwhelming disruption of TransCanada’s ability to steal our land, poison our water, and destabilize our climate.

    Whether you’ve done direct action before or not, and can risk arrest like me, there are roles for everyone ready to help defend our homes from toxic tar sands! 

    See you in January!

    Eric Moll
    Tar Sands Blockade Media Team
    PS. Our friends, Glen, Matt, and Isabel have been in jail for an entire week now and are being held on an outrageous $65,000 bail each. Demonstrate your support for our friends with a generous donation to their legal fund:

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    South Louisiana swamp frackin' sends area residents packin'

    Bayou Frack-Out: The Massive Oil and Gas Disaster You've Never Heard Of

    Thursday, 06 December 2012 10:21By Mike LudwigTruthout | Report
    Sink Hole.The picturesque bayous in Assumption Parish are now contaminated with natural gas. (Photo: Jeff Dubinsky / Louisiana Environmental Action Network)For residents in Assumption Parish, the boiling, gas-belching bayou, with its expanding toxic sinkhole and quaking earth is no longer a mystery; but there is little comfort in knowing the source of the little-known event that has forced them out of their homes.
    Located about 45 miles south of Baton Rouge, Assumption Parish carries all the charms and curses of southern Louisiana. Networks of bayous, dotted with trees heavy with Spanish moss, connect with the Mississippi River as it slowly ambles toward the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen and farmers make their homes there, and so does the oil and gas industry, which has woven its own network of wells, pipelines and processing facilities across the lowland landscape.
    The first sign of the oncoming disaster was the mysterious appearance of bubbles in the bayous in the spring of 2012. For months the residents of a rural community in Assumption Parish wondered why the waters seemed to be boiling in certain spots as they navigated the bayous in their fishing boats.
    Then came the earthquakes. The quakes were relatively small, but some residents reported that their houses shifted in position, and the tremors shook a community already desperate for answers. State officials launched an investigation into the earthquakes and bubbling bayous in response to public outcry, but the officials figured the bubbles were caused by a single source of natural gas, such as a pipeline leak. They were wrong.
    On a summer night in early August, the earth below the Bayou Corne, located near a small residential community in Assumption, simply opened up and gave way. Several acres of swamp forest were swallowed up and replaced with a gaping sinkhole that filled itself with water, underground brines, oil and natural gas from deep below the surface. Since then, the massive sinkhole at Bayou Corne has grown to 8 acres in size.
    On August 3, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a statewide emergency, and local officials in Assumption ordered the mandatory evacuation of about 300 residents of more than 150 homes located about a half-mile from the sinkhole. Four months later, officials continue to tell residents that they do not know when they will be able to return home. A few have chosen to ignore the order and have stayed in their homes, but the neighborhood is now quiet and nearly vacant. Across the road from the residential community, a parking lot near a small boat launch ramp has been converted to a command post for state police and emergency responders.
    120612-4c(Photo: Jeffrey Dubinsky / Louisiana Environmental Action Network)
    "This place is no longer fit for human habitation, and will forever be," shouted one frustrated evacuee at a recent community meeting in Assumption.
    The Bayou Corne sinkhole is an unprecedented environmental disaster. Geologists say they have never dealt with anything quite like it before, but the sinkhole has made few headlines beyond the local media. No news may be good news for Texas Brine, a Houston-based drilling and storage firm that for years milked an underground salt cavern on the edge of large salt formation deep below the sinkhole area. From oil and gas drilling, to making chloride and other chemicals needed for plastics and chemical processing, the salty brine produced by such wells is the lifeblood of the petrochemical industry.
    Geologists and state officials now believe that Texas Brine's production cavern below Bayou Corne collapsed from the side and filled with rock, oil and gas from deposits around the salt formation. The pressure in the cavern was too great and caused a "frack out." Like Mother Nature's own version of the controversial oil and gas drilling technique known as "fracking," brine and other liquids were forced vertically out of the salt cavern, fracturing rock toward the surface and causing the ground to give way.
    "In the oil field, you've heard of hydraulic fracturing; that's what they're using to develop gas and oil wells around the country ..."What is a frack-out is, is when you get the pressure too high and instead fracturing where you want, it fractures all the way to the surface," said Gary Hecox, a geologist with the Shaw Environmental Group, at a recent community meeting in Assumption Parish. Texas Brine brought in the Shaw group to help mitigate the sinkhole.
    As the weeks went by, officials determined the unstable salt cavern was to blame for the mysterious tremors and bubbling bayous. Texas Brine publically claimed the failure of the cavern was caused by seismic activity and refused to take responsibility for the sinkhole, but the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has since determined that the collapsing cavern caused the tremors felt in the neighborhood, not the other way around.
    120612-4a(Photo: Jeffrey Dubinsky / Louisiana Environmental Action Network)
    According to Hecox and the USGS, the collapsing cavern shifted and weakened underground rock formations, causing the earthquakes and allowing natural gas and oil to migrate upward and contaminate the local groundwater aquifer. Gas continues to force its way up, and now a layer of gas sits on top of the aquifer and leaches through the ground into the bayous, causing the water to bubble up in several spots. Gas moves much faster through water than oil, which explains why the bubbles have not been accompanied by a familiar sheen.
    Documents obtained by the Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, revealed that in 2011, Texas Brine sent a letter to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to alert its director, Joseph Ball, that the cavern had failed a "mechanical integrity test" and would be capped and shut down. The DNR received the letter but did not require any additional monitoring of the well's integrity.
    Despite this letter, regulators apparently did not suspect the brine cavern to be the source of the bubbles until a few days before the sinkhole appeared, The Advocate reported. The letter raised ire among local officials, who did not hear about the failed integrity test until after Bayou Corne became a slurry pit.
    Texas Brine spokesmen Sonny Cranch told Truthout the company has not officially taken responsibility for the sinkhole disaster, but has "acknowledged that there is a relationship" between the collapsed cavern and the sinkhole.
    120612-4b(Photo: Jeffrey Dubinsky / Louisiana Environmental Action Network)
    A Historic Disaster
    "It's a tough problem. Nobody in the world has ever faced a situation like this that we're grappling with," Hecox told evacuees at a community meeting on November 13.
    At an earlier public meeting on October 23, Hecox said there is no "cookbook" for dealing with the sinkhole and, because the disaster is unprecedented, there is no clear path for a cleanup. After all, he said, you can't "fix" a collapsed underground cavern.
    At the most recent meeting, Hecox told residents that installing methane monitors in houses near the sinkhole was one step that must to be taken if they ever wish to return home. At one point, an evacuee interrupted Hecox.
    "You expect us to go back to our houses again?" the evacuee shouted from the audience. "Have y'all lost your damn minds?"
    No Place Like Home
    Nick Romero is a former postal worker from Baton Rouge who moved to the Belle Rose community in Assumption parish to retire next to the bayous.
    "Until May 30, or whenever they reported the bubbles and stuff, everything was great around here, just great," Romero told Truthout during an interview at his home near the sinkhole in early November.
    Romero has a small boathouse on the bayou behind his home, where he and his wife have lived for more than 15 years. Romero can simply push a button to drop his boat in the water and follow the bayou to his favorite fishing holes.
    "The fishing was great, ah man," Romero said. "I just go over there, turn a nob, and if they don't bite, I go back to doing what I'm doing."
    But Romero has not gone fishing anywhere in the neighborhood since the sinkhole opened up nearby.
    "You just don't know what could happen next," he said.
    Every night before going to sleep, Romero surfs the web for updates on the sinkhole from various local and state agencies. Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night, worried about the sinkhole, and spends hours thinking about questions to ask authorities, or looking up information online.
    Romero said he sometimes smells the sinkhole, which sits behind a tree line on the other side of a nearby state road. The morning before the interview, he said, was the first time the fumes came into his house. The air outside was heavy and thick, and soon the smell was inside, hanging low about the house. Luckily, he said, as the day heated up, the fumes evaporated.
    Romero probably smelled the stench of the crude oil floating on the top of the sinkhole. Texas Brine has been skimming it from the surface and pumping what they can out of the ground.
    Romero and his wife among the last people still living in their homes on their block in early November.The rest had evacuated. Romero said they had finally decided to move out just a few days earlier, but they did not know where to go. Should they sign a lease on a new home? What if returning home became possible in a few months? Hecox and local authorities have made it clear that they have no idea when the evacuation order will be lifted. For the Romeros, there are too many questions and not enough answers.
    Romero's decision to finally evacuate was partially based on serious health concerns: His wife is battling breast cancer for the second time in a decade. He gestured with his hand, naming nearby homes where residents had also developed breast cancer. From 2005 to 2009, Assumption Parish had the seventh highest breast cancer rate among Louisiana's 64 counties, according to the National Cancer Institute. Romero is concerned about radioactive material that was produced by Texas Brine's mining operation more than a decade ago.
    In 1995, Texas Brine asked state authorities for permission to dump "low amounts" of soils containing underground radioactive material into the cavern that is now collapsed. The "naturally occurring radioactive material," also known as NORM, had accumulated in soils near the well pad as part of the brine production process.
    Texas Brine's Cranch said there was a "serious discussion" about storing the NORM in the cavern, but that never happened. Instead, he said, the company left the material near the wellhead and above ground, as allowed by state law. Cranch said NORM has a "low level" of radiation and a "low half-life."
    "This stuff is everyday stuff," Cranch said.
    State officials found NORM in the sinkhole in August, but only at concentrations well below even acceptable levels. They determined it did not pose a risk to human health, and there's no hard evidence linking the radioactive material to the cases of breast cancer noted by Romero. The NORM is simply another unknown on Romero's list of worries.
    "It was a nice, laidback, easygoing place," Romero said of his community. "You feel safe. But you just don't have that anymore."
    No End in Sight
    On November 27, the sinkhole had a "burp," according to observers. Crude oil and woody debris rose to the surface, as water from a nearby swamp was seen flowing into the sinkhole. The "burp" roughly coincided with seismic activity recorded by the US Geological Survey.
    The sinkhole continues to shift and settle, as do the fractured rocks below it, regularly causing tremors and micro-earthquakes observed by seismic monitors. Shaw Geologist Gary Hecox believes the sinkhole may increase in diameter, and observers have found that the depth of the sinkhole has decreased from 490 feet to 140 feet.
    At a public meeting in mid-October, Hecox told evacuees that there is a considerable amount of subterranean material that has yet to be accounted for and may continue the frack out. At the time, the sinkhole measured 550 feet across, but Hecox calculated that it could grow to 1,500 feet across. When asked how many trees and living things could be killed by brine and oil leaking from the sinkhole, Hecox said he did not know.
    The hole won't grow big enough to swallow the nearby neighborhood or state highway, Hecox said, but he continued to insist that the mandatory evacuation order is appropriate. When asked about the risks faced by those who ignored the order, which is "mandatory" but not enforced, Hecox repeatedly said that he would "not let his grandkids" live near the sinkhole.
    Cleanup work continues while residents wait for the undetermined end of the evacuation order. Some evacuees are staying with friends and family; others are renting places to stay while they wait.
    Texas Brine has recovered a considerable amount of oil from the sinkhole and formations below, but the company has failed to keep oil and other pollutants from contaminating nearby waterways, according to state officials. On December 1, Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh fined Texas Brine $100,000 for failing to meet several deadlines for the cleanup effort. The company failed to install a containment system at the sinkhole to prevent contamination of nearby waterways by a November 16 deadline, Welsh said. Texas Brine also failed to meet deadlines for installing methane monitors in nearby homes and establishing a number of vent wells to burn off natural gas in the aquifer and other underground formations.
    "We cannot, and will not, tolerate delays or excuses in the effort to protect public safety and the environment, especially when the people of Bayou Corne still cannot feel comfortable returning to their own homes," Welsh said.
    The company is also under state to orders to pay a weekly $875 stipend to each evacuated household.
    Vent wells set up by Texas Brine are now burning off the natural gas that contaminated local aquifer. Like flaming torches, pipes connected to the aquifer let flames fly into the open air as the gas makes its way out of the groundwater. One vent well removing gas from the aquifer can burn about 46,900 cubic feet of gas per day.
    Wilma Subra, a chemist and technical advisor for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, has been monitoring the sinkhole and evacuated neighborhood. Subra, who has documented environmental justice issues across the country, told Truthout that the evacuees and others living nearby are "a very well-informed and engaged community."
    Public meetings and web postings provided by local officials, Texas Brine and state regulators provide the community with updated information on a near-daily basis. A spokesperson for Texas Brine told Truthout the company is trying to make its operations as transparent as possible.
    Transparency alone, however, will not bring the evacuees back to their homes.
    "We are doing all we can do.... Mother Nature has to take its course," said spokesperson Cranch, who added that Texas Brine did not issue the evacuation order and some people have ignored it and returned home.
    Romero and other residents remain frustrated with Texas Brine. They say that simply complying with state orders to clean up the sinkhole is not enough, and the company should go above and beyond the call of duty to return them to their homes.
    "They are frustrated and they are scared, and the level of frustration and the level of depression are building," Subra said. "They have been out of their homes since the beginning of August, and there is basically no end in sight."
    The Bayou Corne sinkhole is not going away anytime soon. Texas Brine, state authorities and experts like Hecox have made it clear there is no magic fix for a massive slurry pit, a collapsed underground cavern and untold amounts of oil and gas escaping through the disturbed earth.
    These are difficult facts to face for residents like Romero. Even if they can return to their homes one day, he said, the neighborhood will never be the same.
    Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.


    Mike Ludwig is a Truthout reporter. Follow Mike on Twitter @ludwig_mike.