Legislature approves funding to stabilize sinkhole-in-waiting | KOB 4

Legislature approves funding to stabilize sinkhole-in-waiting

Jen French
February 12, 2018 09:52 PM

CARLSBAD, N.M. – A potential sinkhole projected to be as big as one-and-a-half football fields could open up at any moment in southeast New Mexico, in a juncture heavily frequented by oil and gas trucks that haul fuel to the northern half of the state.


Sandwiched in the Highway 62 and 285 “Y” south of Carlsbad, if the I & W brine wells – which were to collapse, they would swallow an important gas and oil corridor and could cost the state up to $1 billion in damages and lost business revenue, according to the Carlsbad Department of Development.

A brine well is drilled into a salt layer to create salt water (brine) for oil and gas operations. But problems can arise when the salt water solution creates a giant underground cavern, destabilizing the ground above it.

Signs posted along Highway 62 and 285 warn drivers of the potential collapse.

"At that location, we have two highways (and) we have an irrigation canal that feeds water to about 20,000 acres of agriculture in south Eddy County,” said George Veni, director of the National Cave and Caverns Research Institute.

The New Mexico House and Senate have already unanimously approved Senate Bill 226, which redistributes 4.15 percent of the state Motor Vehicle Excise Tax from the general fund to the state road fund.  That move could provide close to $30 million over the next four years to help prevent the brine well from collapsing.

Veni said the City of Carlsbad has set aside at least $4 million, Eddy County has pitched in $4 million and another $2 million could come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Officials say fixing the brine well may cost $40 million in total.

Veni added there's a chance the brine well will collapse before 2022. Some studies suggest it could turn into a sinkhole much sooner.

"Within the last few months we've noticed some cracks in the ground and some small holes,” he said. “Some of the holes are up to a foot in diameter. That really concerns me."

Five gas stations are near the potential collapse site. Veni warns that a collapse could cause gasoline pipes to rupture, eventually polluting the aquifer.

“The diesel can go into the groundwater and you have that to clean up, which even further elevates the cost of cleanup,” he said.

Gov. Susana Martinez will have three days to sign or veto SB 226 after it's introduced to her.


Jen French

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