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Cartwright said the well was abandoned after the company unsuccessfully tried to work over the cavern for additional resources in 2010. That was when they noticed there might be a possible breach in the dome because the well failed a pressure test. The well was then taken out of service. Vice President of Operations Bruce Martin said they disclosed all the issues they knew about the well to the state Department of Natural Resources.
DNR records show that on Aug. 31, 1995, the agency authorized Texas Brine to dispose of 20 cubic feet of naturally occurring radioactive material by pumping it into the cavern and another Texas Brine salt cavern in Lafourche Parish. (Read letter.)
A Texas Brine letter dated Aug. 25, 1995, requesting the disposal says the radioactive “scale” had accumulated in soils around the two cavern wells. (Read letter.)
The radioactivity of scale, a common byproduct of oil and gas exploration and production, can vary widely from background levels to much higher, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.
The situation is made all the worrisome because the hole is believed to be close to a well containing 1.5 million barrels of liquid butane, a highly volatile liquid that turns into a highly flammable vapor upon release. A breach of that well, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack has said, could be catastrophic.
The sinkhole is on the outside edge of the salt dome where this particular brine well is located. "There are some indications that it very well may have been connected, but there's just indications," Cranch said. "There's nothing concrete that has connected the sinkhole to the cavern." There was bubbling in the water and the sinkhole is near areas where there has been exploration for oil and gas in the past, which would make the presence of low levels of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) possible. The state's Department of Environmental Quality said water samples from the sinkhole showed oil and diesel on its surface, but initial readings did not detect radiation. In the days after the sinkhole opened up on Aug. 3, nearby Highway 70 was closed down because officials discovered that the sinkhole caused a 36-inch natural gas pipeline to bend and feared the possibility of an explosion, according to ABC News' Baton Rouge affiliate WBRZ.