Lake Peigneur

Coordinates: 29°58′52″N 91°58′59″W / 29.981°N 91.983°W / 29.981; -91.983
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Lake Peigneur
Location of Lake Peigneur in Louisiana, USA
Location of Lake Peigneur in Louisiana, USA
Lake Peigneur
Location of Lake Peigneur in Louisiana, USA
Location of Lake Peigneur in Louisiana, USA
Lake Peigneur
LocationIberia Parish, Louisiana
Coordinates29°58′52″N 91°58′59″W / 29.981°N 91.983°W / 29.981; -91.983
Primary inflowsestimated 8.47 cu ft/s (0.240 m3/s) from catchment[1]
Primary outflowsDelcambre Canal
Catchment area10.2 sq mi (26 km2) of the Vermilion-Teche Basin[1]
Basin countriesUnited States
Surface area1,125 acres (455 ha)[1]
Average depth3 ft (1 m)[1]
Max. depth200 ft (61 m)[1]

Lake Peigneur (pronounced [pæ̃j̃æ̹ɾ]) is a brackish lake in the U.S. state of Louisiana, 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers) north of Delcambre and 9.1 mi (14.6 km) west of New Iberia, near the northernmost tip of Vermilion Bay. With a maximum depth of 200 feet (60 meters), it is the deepest lake in Louisiana. Its name comes from the French word "peigneur", meaning "one who combs."

It was a 10-foot-deep (3 m) freshwater body, popular for recreation, until human activity caused an unusual disaster on November 20, 1980, that changed its structure and the surrounding land.[1][2]

Drilling disaster[edit]

On Thursday, November 20, 1980, the drill assembly of a Texaco-contracted oil rig pierced an inactive third level of the nearby Diamond Crystal Salt Company salt mine. The hole produced a vortex that drained the lake into the mine, filling the enormous caverns that had been left by the removal of salt. The mine, in operation since 1919, was made up of several levels up to 1,500 feet (460 m) below the surface. Each tunnel was about 100 by 80 feet (30 m × 24 m). Pillars of salt had been left in place to support the ceiling at each level. The pillars were dissolved by the encroaching fresh water and caused the mine tunnels to collapse.[2]

The backwards flow of the normally outflowing Delcambre Canal temporarily created the biggest waterfall in Louisiana

The resultant sinkhole swallowed the drilling platform, eleven barges holding supplies for the drilling operation, a tugboat, many trees, and 65 acres (26 hectares) of the surrounding terrain. So much water drained into the caverns that the flow of the Delcambre Canal that usually empties the lake into Vermilion Bay was reversed, causing salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to flow into what was now a dry lakebed. This backflow created for a few days the tallest waterfall ever in the state of Louisiana, at 164 ft (50 m), as the lake refilled with salty water from the Delcambre Canal and Vermilion Bay.[3] Air displaced by water flowing into the mine caverns erupted through the mineshafts as compressed air and then later as 400-foot (120 m) geysers.[3]

Although there were no human deaths, three dogs were reported killed. All 55 employees in the mine at the time of the accident escaped, with six employees later given awards by Diamond Crystal for heroism. Their successful evacuation was thanks to the mine's electrician who noticed a torrent of water and sounded the alarm, as well as the employees' discipline and training making their escape via the only elevator in an orderly fashion.[4][5] The crew of 7 on the drilling rig fled the platform shortly before it collapsed into the new depths of the lake. A fisherman who was on the lake at the time piloted his small boat to shore and escaped. Days after the disaster, once the water pressure equalized, nine of the eleven sunken barges popped out of the whirlpool and refloated on the lake's surface.[3]


On the date of the disaster, an oil rig contracted by Texaco was conducting exploratory drilling in the lake alongside a salt dome under Lake Peigneur. The salt dome contained the Diamond Crystal Salt Company salt mine.[6] The rig's 14-inch (36 cm) drill assembly had become stuck at 1,228 feet (374 m) two-and-a-half hours before the drilling rig began to tilt.[7]

The drill assembly punctured the salt mine beneath the lake, and the water of the lake soon began entering the salt mine. Over the course of several hours, the fresh lake water began dissolving the salt and enlarging the hole, causing the lake to drain into the salt mine.[8][9]

Experts from the Mine Safety and Health Administration were unable to determine the exact blame because they were unable to determine whether Texaco was drilling in the wrong place or if the mine's maps were inaccurate.[2]

Evidence that could have identified the exact cause was destroyed and washed away in the ensuing maelstrom. After the fact, engineers from Texaco and Diamond Crystal worked together to pinpoint the likely location of the hole that had pierced the mine. They placed it within a mined out portion of the 1300-foot level of the mine.[10]


Texaco and the drilling contractor Wilson Brothers paid $32 million to Diamond Crystal and $12.8 million to a nearby botanical garden and plant nursery, Live Oak Gardens, in out-of-court settlements to compensate for the damage caused.[11] The Mine Safety and Health Administration released a report on the disaster in August 1981 which exhaustively documented the event but stopped short of identifying an official reason for the disaster.[7] The mine was finally closed in December 1986.

Since 1994, AGL Resources has used Lake Peigneur's underlying salt dome as a storage and hub facility for pressurized natural gas.[12][13] There was concern from local residents in 2009 over the safety of storing the gas under the lake and nearby drilling operations.[14]


The former freshwater lake was turned saline by the inflow of salt water from the Delcambre Canal and Vermilion Bay. The event permanently affected the ecosystem of the lake and increased the depth of part of the lake.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Lake Peigneur TMDLS for dissolved oxygen and nutrients" (PDF) (Report). EPA. 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-24.
  2. ^ a b c "Lake Peigneur – Oil rig disasters – Offshore Drilling Rig Accidents". Archived from the original on 2016-09-12. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  3. ^ a b c "Engineering Disasters 5". Modern Marvels. Season 10. Episode 86. 2003-12-30. 34 minutes in. History Channel. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  4. ^ "The Lake Peigneur Giant Sinkhole Disaster 1980". YouTube.
  5. ^ Mine Safety and Health Administration (1981-08-13). The Jefferson Island Mine inundation (Report). p. 37. Retrieved 2020-02-04. Five days after the inundation, Diamond Crystal gave out awards for heroism to Earl Dundas, Junius Gaddison, Wilfred Johnson, Louis Babin, and John Vice for their cool-headed actions and leadership during the successful evacuation. When officials found out later about Randy La Salle's search by truck for miners in remote areas of the 1,500-foot level, they also cited him for heroism.
  6. ^ "Mine whirlpool swallows lake, oil rig, tug and ten barges". The Nashua Telegraph. Nashua, NH. 1980-11-21. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  7. ^ a b Mine Safety and Health Administration (1981-08-13). The Jefferson Island Mine inundation (Report). p. 57. Retrieved 2020-02-04. Because it was impossible to inspect the flooded mine workings, and because of the circumstantial nature of the information available, it would be extremely difficult to determine the precise cause of the inundation.
  8. ^ Bellows, Alan (2005-09-06). "Lake Peigneur: The Swirling Vortex of Doom". Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  9. ^ Parker, Matt (2021). Humble pi : when math goes wrong in the real world (Riverhead trade paperback ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-593-08469-4. OCLC 1237358449.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ Mine Safety and Health Administration (1981-08-13). The Jefferson Island Mine inundation (Report). p. 98. Retrieved 2020-02-04. Appendix T: Estimated Drill Hole Location
  11. ^ "Settlement reached in Jeff Island accident". UPI. Baton Rough, Louisiana. 1983-07-07. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  12. ^ "Jefferson Island Storage and Hub Q & A". Archived from the original on 2019-02-15. AGL resources, 2007, (map of lake showing current and planned gas caverns)
  13. ^ "AGL Resources Seeking Customer Interest in Project to Expand Jefferson Island Storage & Hub Facility; Two New Salt Caverns Could Almost Triple Capacity" (Press Release). 2005-10-27. Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  14. ^ "Lake Peigneur Update". WorldNow and KLFY. December 9, 2009. Archived from the original on March 7, 2014. Retrieved 2017-04-27.

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