A Brief History
On November 20, 1980, Texaco, the petroleum and gasoline company with the red star logo, accidentally penetrated a salt mine as it drilled an oil well beneath a Louisiana lake, causing the water to drain. As the lake refilled, the sportsmen’s lake became a saltwater lake, no longer hospitable to wildlife or suitable for fishing.
With over 1,100 acres of surface area and at about 10 feet deep, Lake Peigneur was no small pond. As the lake water rushed into the salt mine, it created tremendous suction and a whirlpool effect resembling a giant bathtub mid drain. The oil drilling platform was sucked into the hole with the rushing water, as were 65 acres of land adjacent to the lake! Along with trees and miscellaneous debris, 11 cargo barges also went “down the drain.” Incredibly, no humans were killed in the bizarre event even though 55 miners narrowly avoided a gruesome death by running out of the salt mine. The men working on the oil platform and fishermen managed to escape as well, but 3 dogs were reported killed.
As water from nearby canals refilled the lake, the lake became heavily contaminated with salt, but not from the salt in the mine like one would think, but from the brackish water in the canal system. Obviously, the salt mine suffered massive damage, and Texaco and their drilling partners had to pay the mine’s operator $32 million in compensation. An additional $12.8 million was paid to nearby land owners.
Regardless of which side of the debates over global warming and government regulations to cut carbon emissions and fuel consumption you are on, it is pretty apparent that drilling for ever more oil and natural gas sources can have environmental consequences. The Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was over 26,000 square miles large before Soviet oil irrigators did something similar to the Lake Peigneur disaster by draining most of the streams that fed the huge lake, leaving only about 6,000 square miles of surface water in smaller, remaining lakes. The economy of the region was ruined, and the climate changed for the worse. Next time you hear someone say “Drill Baby, Drill!,” you might want to look at before and after photos of the Aral Sea and think twice. It can happen anywhere, including your backyard!
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For more information, please see…
Perrow, Charles. Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. Princeton University Press, 1999.