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Louisiana sinkhole raises further fears of gas explosions

14 August 2012

The sinkhole that appeared on August 4 about 50 miles south of Baton Rouge in Louisiana could threaten an explosion risk from underground gas, according to local reports. It has already swallowed hundreds of full-size trees and caused a mandatory evacuation order to be imposed for 150 residences nearby.

There is visible bubbling in the water of the sinkhole, thought to be gas, and the state's Department of Environmental Quality said water samples from the sinkhole showed oil and diesel on its surface.

The sinkhole is 100 metres in diameter and up to 150 metres deep, according to John Boudreaux, director of the Office of Homeland Security in Assumption Parish.

It is adjacent to a well containing 1.5 million barrels of liquid butane, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack told CNN. If the well is breached, it could be released as a highly flammable vapour, a possibility Waguespack described as potentially catastrophic.

An an out-of-use underground salt cavern operated by Texas Brine is thought to be the cause, and that company has been ordered by the Louisiana Office of Conservation to investigate whether the old cavern may have opened the sinkhole or caused the gas bubbling.

Gas pipelines have been closed or rerouted around the affected area, and a nearby highway was temporarily closed, but has now been reopened.

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