When Humans Attack – Stories of People-Induced Catastrophes

We, as a species, have a long history of screwing things up and occasionally learning from our mistakes so the negatives aspects of history won’t be repeated. But sometimes, an opportunity comes along to screw things up so monumentally, we can’t pass it by. The two examples I’d like to highlight today involved the creation of what would commonly be perceived as natural catastrophes were they not likely connected to anthropic stupidity.

The first example involves a mud volcano plaguing homeowners in Indonesia. According to the WIRED.com feature:

“Villagers near Sidoarjo noticed a mud volcano beginning to erupt at 5 a.m. local time May 29, 2006. It was about 500 feet from a local gas-exploration well. Every day since then, the Lusi mud volcano has pumped out 100,000 tons of mud, or enough to fill 60 Olympic-size swimming pools. It has now covered an area of almost 3 square miles to a depth of 65 feet. Thirty thousand people have been displaced, and scientific evidence is mounting that the company drilling the well caused the volcano.”

The cause of the mud volcano has been debated in the journal “Marine and Petroleum Geology”, with the lead drilling researcher for the company implicated in this royal screw-up pointing a finger at earthquakes that occurred within geographic proximity to the volcano. Other researchers, however, are casting skepticism on this possibility. Further details concerning the current research and arguments against the drilling company’s posturing can be read here.

So I am truly saving the best for last with the draining of Lake Peigneur, located in Louisiana. This epic blunder (or epic fail if you prefer) is also related to a drilling incident involving the Diamond Crystal Salt Company. I will briefly describe the incident that occurred in 1980, 1 year before I was born, but the full effect can only really be captured by watching the footage produced by the History Channel:

Basically, these guys drilled through the bottom of the lake into some active salt mines. When they pulled the drill bit out, it was like yanking a bathtub stopper out. Instead of rubber duckies, however, the water sucked down 11 barges, 1 tugboat, a house, trees, and significant amounts of land among other things. The sucking power of the vortex was so strong, it actually reversed the flow of Delcambre canal, normally an outlet to the ocean, so water streamed into the lake. Amazingly, not a single of the 55 salt miners died, a testament to proper training and fast thinking.

The lake is still there but the ecosystem is utterly unrecognizable as compared to its original state. The inflow of saline ocean water during the catastrophe caused the lake to permanently become brackish; fisherman can now catch salt-water species that were never seen before the incident. The depth regime of the lake has also been altered significantly.

Read an entertaining and informative account of Lake Peigneur’s unfortunate suffering here.


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