DAISETTA, Texas – A company that sits near the edge of a massive sinkhole in Southeast Texas has been accused of violating permits for disposal of saltwater, which some geologists suggest may have caused the crater.
Officials with the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates such permits, stressed Friday that the cause of the sinkhole has not been determined.
The sinkhole in the small Southeast Texas town of Daisetta began as a 20-foot hole in the ground on Wednesday, but by Thursday had grown to 900 feet across at its widest point and 260 feet deep.
It has swallowed up oil tanks and barrels, tires, telephone poles and several vehicles in Daisetta, a town of around 1,000 residents located about 60 miles northeast of Houston.
By Friday, officials said the sinkhole did not appear to have grown significantly more.
Some geologists say the sinkhole might be related to saltwater waste that is being stored underground in the area.
The saltwater is a byproduct of oil production and has to be stored underground so it won't contaminate water supplies and the environment.
Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said there was no link between the sinkhole and the operations of Deloach Vacuum Services, which has a disposal well for saltwater waste 200 feet from the massive hole.
The company has received citations for two violations from the state. One was for exceeding the amount of wastewater it was permitted to inject into the ground, Nye said. Deloach was allowed to inject 90,000 barrels of waste water per month, but Nye said the firm last year was injecting between 128,000 and 192,000 barrels per month.
The company was also cited for failing to conduct its annual leak test on the piping in the disposal well before April 30.
Officials with Deloach could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.
Daisetta's main street, Farm-to-Market Road 770, which passes by the hole, remains closed to drivers.
There are about 100 homes in the immediate area of the sinkhole, but none are said to be in danger and none have been evacuated.
Daisetta is an old oil field town and poised for potential sinkhole problems, geology experts have said. The town sits on a salt dome, a natural formation created below the ground over millions of years where oil brine and natural gas accumulate.
Daisetta residents were given tours of the hole for the first time Friday night. The public has been barred from the area as a safety precaution.
"We want to let the children see that they won't be sucked into the ground," said Liberty County sheriff's spokesman Hugh Bishop. "But after this, anybody who sneaks in there can be arrested."
On Friday, Daisetta Mayor Lynn Wells asked the state for a disaster declaration for financial assistance.
"We just want to keep everyone safe," he said.
Wells, whose house is about 300 yards from the opening, said he and Liberty County officials met Friday and decided to seek state help.
Wells also said the sinkhole was stable most of the day, with minimal expansion.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, Krista Piferrer, said the state stands ready to help and the situation is being monitored.
Wells said guided tours were being offered to residents of Daisetta to "give them a little peace of mind."