Last spring, residents in Louisiana’s Assumption Parish noticed peculiar bubbles rising to the surface in some bayous. Soon after, small earthquakes shook the towns and raised some eyebrows. In August, i09 writes, the earth suddenly yawned open, swallowing several acres of swampy forest and forming a massive sinkhole full of water, brines, oil and natural gas. Geologists say nature did not cause the hole. Rather, mining activities conducted by the oil and gas service company Texas Brine opened up this apparent pit to hell.
The company, however, denies responsibility. The United States Geological Survey is investigating the incident and has determined that a salt cavern deep below the surface collapsed and caused the earthquake-like tremors, not the other way around. The collapse, they say, was likely brought about by extensive mining.
Since it first appeared, the sinkhole has reached 8 acres in size. Now known as the Bayou Corne Sinkhole, it’s caused the forced evacuation of 300 residents in the nearby town of Assumption, TreeHugger writes. Officials do not know when the evacuees might be allowed to return to their homes.
Despite efforts to contain the muck, nearby waterways already shows signs of contamination, including toxic hydrogen sulfide. Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh fined Texas Brine $100,000 for failing to meet several deadlines for the cleanup effort, i09 writes.
At this point, officials are beginning to fear that the sinkhoke may have to become a “sacrifice zone,” joining the ranks of such uninhabitable, manmade disaster zones as the giant wormhole in Guatemala City and the spewing mudlake of Java.
More from Smithsonian.com: