Prior to 1980, Lake Peigneur in Louisiana was a sleepy 11 feet shallow fresh-water lake. On the morning of November 20, 1980 the oil conglomerate Texaco made a major drilling error while exploring the lake for oil deposits. Below the lake rested the Jefferson Island Salt Mine, owned by the Diamond Crystal Salt Company. Although not proven because all evidence was washed away in the ensuing maelstrom the disaster is generally attributed to a miscalculation by the Texaco drilling team, which resulted in the drilling of a small hole through the salt mine ceiling, causing a violent chain reaction as the fresh water lake began rapidly draining into the mine, which soaked up the water almost as fast as it drained in. On the surface of the lake, a violent whirlpool formed which caused several barges, many trees and large portions of the surrounding terrain to be sucked into the mine.
The mine was actually so large that it sucked the lake water in completely, which actually caused the flow reversal of the Delcambre canal, which drained to the Gulf of Mexico. The lake began refilling with salt-water, temporarily creating the largest waterfall in Louisiana (at 100-150 feet) and drastically changing the lake’s biology by introducing new species of brackish plants and marine life to fill the now 1,300 feet deep salt-water lake.
Remarkably, there there were no injuries and no human lives lost in this dramatic event – all 55 employees down in the salt mine at the time of the accident were able to escape, some through heroic efforts by co-workers, and the staff of the drilling rig escaped the platform before it was sucked down into the new depths of the lake – though three dogs were reported killed. Days after the disaster, nine of the eleven sunken barges popped out of the whirlpool and re-floated on the lake’s surface.
The drilling company, Texaco and Wilson Brothers paid $32 million (USD) to Diamond Crystal and $12.8 million to nearby Live Oak Gardens in out-of-court settlements to compensate for the damage caused.