February 25, 2008

The World’s Weirdest Engineering Disaster

Didn’t anyone ever tell you that salt mines, shallow lakes and deep-earth drills shouldn’t mix? What started as a seemingly minor miscalculation resulted in a billion-gallon flood, unbelievable property damage and the upheaval of an entire ecosystem. Amazingly, this catastrophe cost no lives though it remains one of history’s most devastating engineering disasters.


On a fateful day in 1980 a group of oil drillers were working in a shallow lake in Louisiana probing for oil. A miscalculation sent their drill straight into a large salt mine shaft below the lake’s surface. The hole started at just over a foot in diameter but rapidly widened as the water from the lake above washed away the salt around it. What started out quite simply ended in disaster that no one could have predicted.

oil-rig-disaster.jpgWorkers above on the oil platform recognized something was wrong and ‘jumped ship’ before the entire platform disappeared below their feet in a growing whirlpool – all in what was supposed to be a shallow lake! Meanwhile, in the salt mines below, workers made their way through flooded tunnels and all managed to (in some cases narrowly) make it out alive. Despite all of the chaos, no one died above or below ground.


Before it was through, the surface whirlpool managed to suck down islands, barge docks, barges, trees, trucks, an entire parking lock and 3.5 billion gallons of water. The flow of water normally leading from the lake into Vermilion Bay was reversed as the lake refilled itself, and also created the largest waterfall in Louisiana history (over 150 feet) as water poured back into the lake. In the process, what started as a ten-foot-deep freshwater lake became a thousand-foot-deep saltwater lake!

More Sources: 1, 2, 3


  1. DOH!

    Comment by puttputt — February 27, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  2. […] more and see video footage about the Lake Peigneur disaster […]

    Pingback by Popular Fidelity » Sci & Health » Giant Lake Created by World's Weirdest Engineering Disaster — February 29, 2008 @ 7:25 am

  3. I dunno… I think the Boston Molasses Flood is weirder: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boston_Molasses_Disaster/

    Comment by Chris — March 3, 2008 @ 2:41 am

  4. “What do you mean there’s a salt mine under this place? Don’t you know: we’re drilling for oil, not for salt, you plank!”

    Comment by da — March 3, 2008 @ 7:05 am

  5. No – my Love is not cheating on Me

    Comment by adg — March 3, 2008 @ 9:23 am

  6. Read about this in Charles Perrow’s book Normal Accidents.

    Comment by rolloffle — March 3, 2008 @ 10:41 am

  7. Cool site!

    Comment by AmyOops — March 13, 2008 @ 9:04 am

  8. Well… I bet the guy in charge had only one thing to say… “Oops” :)

    Comment by Vintagepc — March 16, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

  9. It’s not unusual that they were drilling near a salt mine. At least in the Gulf of Mexico and on the land in Louisiana (I can’t speak for other areas), oil is very commonly found by salt domes. In a few cases, those domes even get used to store excess oil or even compressed natural gas.

    Comment by Chris — March 23, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

  10. Are we civilised?If we call ourselves civilised then we

    have to pay price for that.We have become money-minded &

    we neglect nature.Ultimately we have to suffer for our

    wrong doings.To live our life we must look to-wards birds

    and animals around us and learn from them.

    Yogesh Baxi

    Comment by Yogesh Baxi — April 2, 2008 @ 7:30 am

  11. And we’re trying to show the Iraqis how to do things? Better stay home until we get it right here first. Cavalier comes to mind, so does stupid, inexperienced, irresponsible, shoot the engineer,and a few I can’t put in print

    Comment by Uncle B — April 4, 2008 @ 7:12 pm

  12. this is something that was supposed to be controlled by Kerry

    Comment by George Bush — April 7, 2008 @ 6:07 am

  13. *Towards Yogesh Baxi comment*

    Ummm… You must be commiting crimes against your own beliefs for using the computer. You are using energy, most likly produced from oil powered electricity. Before you say something hypocritical… think about it first.

    Comment by Common Sense — April 12, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

  14. Uncle B – you said, “And we’re trying to show the Iraqis how to do things? Better stay home until we get it right here first.”

    Do you get that this happened in 1980 – which is, like, 28 years ago? And it hasn’t happened since? Do you get that?

    Comment by reine.de.tout — April 13, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

  15. Yeah, hi. I live on Lake Peigneur. More specifically, I live in Delcambre, which is a town right on the lake. Whoever wrote the article missed a fact. A house on Jefferson Island was also sucked into the lake. The chimney is still sticking out of the water today. We usually ride past it when we’re out in our boat. It’s quite funny to see a chimney just sticking up out of the middle of a lake. =] Just thought I’d share that with ya’ll.

    Comment by Jinx — April 18, 2008 @ 5:55 am

  16. To Uncle B.
    The US developed the middle east after the west found a use for oil. We taught them everything we know. We gave them the power and wealth that they have now. Go figure.

    Comment by Thor — March 18, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

  17. Well if the lake is dry it could be a landing platform for the space cadets. What about Queensland;our turf? Gods work?

    Comment by ngala — January 12, 2011 @ 6:44 am

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