Brine Wells May Swallow Towns

Brine wells are used by oil companies to coax more oil out of a particular field. Fresh water is pumped into salt layers; the water dissolves the salt and the resulting brine water is brought back to the surface for use in oil fields.

But what about the open space created underground? Communities in Texas, Kansas, Michigan and Canadian provinces have found out the hard way that open space underground typically leads to settling land and even large cracks in the earth.

This problem has come to a head in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Officials have set up a monitoring system that takes readings from tilt meters and pressure sensors every two seconds and averages them to determine whether there are changes drastic enough to trigger alarms. The alarms are expected to give authorities several hours to evacuate people in advance of a cave-in that could span anywhere from 200 to 500 feet, Griswold said.

I&W Trucking, the oil field service company that owns the site where the cavern is located, contends the state is overreacting because of the previous collapses on state land and criticized the Oil Conservation Division for not doing more tests to establish the size of the brine cavern before forcing it to plug the well.

The potential sink hole wouldn't just swallow parts of the town. Potential crop damage could total $100 million.

No one knows when the cavern might collapse. But the mayor and other city officials are worried about getting the money they need to tackle the problem in time to stop the worst from happening. State officials said parts of the ground above the well are already heaving while other parts are sinking.

"The clock is ticking," said Jim Goodbar, a senior cave and karst specialist with the Bureau of Land Management.

BLDGBLOG points out that there is an interesting sf predecessor for this idea. In his whimsical 1926 story Quadraturin, Russian writer Sigizmund Krzhizhanowsky creates the idea of a remarkable substance that can actually create larger rooms just by smearing it on the walls. This would be considered an invaluable aid to better living by Soviet citizens in the 1920's, who were restricted to eighty-six square foot apartments:

So then: we have discovered - this is a secret now - an agent for biggerizing rooms. Well, won't you try it?"

The stranger's hand popped out of the briefcase and proffered Sutulin a narrow dark tube, not unlike a tube of paint, with a tightly screwed cap and a leaden seal.

Dissolve 1 teaspoon of the Quadraturin essence in 1 cup of water. Wet a piece of cotton wool or simply a clean rag with the solution; apply this to those of the room's internal walls designated for proliferspansion. This mixture leaves no stains, will not damage wallpaper, and even contributes - incidentally - to the extermination of bedbugs.
(Read more about Quadraturin)

Naturally, poor Sutulin spills the entire contents of the tube on the floor of his apartment, which grows larger and larger.

This ready-made story can be found at the always-interesting BLDGBLOG.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/18/2009)

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