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(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

Texas Brine sues to block state order for wells

Last Modified: Saturday, January 05, 2013 6:37 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A Houston-based company has asked a state court in Baton Rouge to permanently block the Louisiana conservation commissioner's order for new exploratory wells and other steps meant to monitor the effects of a huge sinkhole in Ascension Parish.

The Advocate reported that Texas Brine Co. LLC also challenges Commissioner James Welsh's declaration of an emergency, which let him order the steps without a hearing.

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 28. It says Welsh ignored "more reasonable, scientifically sound and safer methods" for reaching his goals.

Welsh ordered Texas Brine to start the first of two 6,000-foot-deep exploratory wells by Jan. 15.

The lawsuit says those wells could increase the risk of danger to the public and environment.

About 150 households were evacuated Aug. 3 after the sinkhole was found.

The sinkhole is located between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities south of La. 70 South on property leased by Texas Brine from Occidental Petroleum Corp. Texas Brine supplies brine to the Los Angeles-based company.

Scientists believe the sidewall of an abandoned Texas Brine salt cavern failed deep underground. This failure, scientists say, set in motion a series of events that created the sinkhole, released methane and crude oil into the sinkhole and cavern, and unleashed methane also in an underground aquifer and into surface waterways in the area.

The wells ordered by Welsh are meant to identify large empty spaces in the collapse zone and whether they can hold released methane gas.

Texas Brine officials issued a statement Thursday saying the orders' complexity, "unrealistic" timelines and questionable justification forced them to ask the court to intervene until a more thorough and comprehensive review of the work ordered.

The suit says the Office of Conservation issued the directives at 5:45 p.m. Dec. 7 without notice to the company and despite ongoing discussions about what to do next, thus violating constitutional and state statutory protections against deprivation of Texas Brine's right to a hearing.

Welsh cam act without a hearing during an emergency, but the suit disputes whether the emergence of the sinkhole and its growth over the past five months meet the legal definition of an emergency.

The suit names Welsh, his office, the state Department of Natural Resources and the state as defendants and asks for a court hearing on a preliminary injunction to block Welsh's order and separately rule on the need for Welsh to conduct an administrative hearing.

The suit has been assigned to state District Judge Wilson Fields. No hearing had been scheduled by Thursday.

Office of Conservation officials said Thursday night in a written response to Texas Brine's lawsuit that the company received notice of the Dec. 7 order "in full compliance with the law and constitutional mandates."

The officials also stood by their call for the deep wells and defended their determination that the sinkhole remains an emergency, noting parish officials and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration have both reached the same conclusion.

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