Sometimes I do stupid things…you know, make stupid decisions. I know they’re stupid because they have consequences. Not good consequences either, but those other kind. Sometimes the outcome of those stupid things can haunt me for years to come. The Lake Peigneur disaster is one of those really stupid things that I’m glad I had nothing to do with, because somebody made a stupid decision that trumps anything I could have ever come up with.
In 1980, an oil rig was set up in Lake Peigneur. It was owned by Texaco and operated by a local drilling company. This shallow fresh water lake was near New Iberia, Louisiana. (“Old” Iberia is just “Iberia” I found out.) The lake covered 1,300 acres but was only 11 feet deep. In the center of the lake was a 70-acre island known as Jefferson Island, which was home to beautiful botanical gardens. Oil wells and 100-year old walnut trees dotted the surrounding landscape.
Underneath Lake Peigneur, thousands of feet below the surface, was a salt mine. Not like the one where you work, but an actual working salt mine. Fifty-five miners were mining away at the Diamond Crystal Salt Mine on November 21st, 1980. Up above on the drilling platform, those workers began abandoning the rig after it’s 14″ diameter bit jammed up at 1,230 feet and the rig seemed to be unstable. They watched as the $5 million platform and derrick disappeared into the shallow lake. The water around where the derrick had been minutes before, began to swirl. Yeah, like a drain. Before the water ran out of the lake, it took with it a tugboat, eleven barges from the canal which ran from the lake to the Gulf, a loading dock, the seventy acres that was the botanical gardens on Jefferson Island, greenhouses, a house trailer, trucks, tractors, and a parking lot. All down the drain as they say.
Far below the surface, those 55 miners were in danger of being drowned by the lake’s 3.5 billion gallons of water. They rode up eight at a time on the only elevator. All of them made it out alive.
See what happened was someone “miscalculated” where the salt dome was under the lake, and thus placed the drilling platform right over it. That was the stupid mistake. Placed incorrectly the rig drilled through the salt dome, creating the leak. As the salt dissolved around the leak, the hole got bigger and bigger and drained the lake. The canal reversed flow and became a 150-foot waterfall as water from the Gulf now filled up the chasm. What was once a shallow 11 ft deep lake, is now a 1,300 foot deep inland saltwater lake. Probably has a higher salt content than the Great Salt Lake. Of course the entire ecosystem of the lake changed as well.
What can YOU learn from this? Probably nothing. I just find comfort in the fact that I have never made a stupid mistake that big, at least not yet. You can bet Texaco was sued, and so was the drilling company. The thing is, the person, or persons who actually made the stupid mistake have never been identified. They claim all the evidence went down the drain. WTF
You really have to see this to believe it.