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That Sinking Feeling

November 11, 2009

Carlsbad, NM evidently faces a mighty difficult challenge in the years ahead. A massive sinkhole threatens to gobble up the town. MSNBC also has the scoop.

The cause of the sinkhole? Decades of oil and gas extraction in the region.

To accomplish the herculean task of positioning a sinkhole smack in the middle of a populated area, ambitious extractors “pumped fresh water into a salt layer more than 400 feet below the surface and extracted several million barrels of brine to help with drilling.” How thoughtful. Fortunately, the local government has set up alarms to notify residents if the cavern collapses.

If it collapses, the unnatural cavern is likely to take with it a church, a highway, several businesses and a trailer park. Massive fissures currently cleave through town, and one business owner has said that structural cracks have even formed in his store.

“It would be like a bomb going off in the middle of town,” said Jim Griswold, a hydrologist with the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division. The problem is so severe that the Eddy County Commission declared a state of emergency last Thursday, and they hope that state and federal funds will arrive in time to fill the cavern before it collapses.

Wanna know more about best management practices for oil and gas extraction in your area? My colleagues at the Natural Resources Law Center have pulled together a phenomenal database on Intermountain Oil and Gas Drilling.

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