Two West Texas towns are perched on the brink of catastrophe, faced with being swallowed by two expanding sinkholes created by decades of oil and gas extraction, scientists warn.
Geophysicists at Southern Methodist University in Dallas say that the two giant sinkholes near the towns of Kermit and Wink, are not only expanding, but the subsidence – the sinking of land from human activity – around the sinkholes is occurring at an alarming rate.
This activity could lead to the formation of several new sinkholes or turn into one massive sinkhole that could swallow the towns, which sit about 50-60 miles west of Midland / Odessa, Texas, and have a combined population of 7,000.
Residents of Kermit and Wink are very familiar with the sinkholes, which authorities have fenced because of their instability. The first hole, which opened in 1980, is about as wide as a football field. The second opened in 2002 and is much larger, with a span of about 900 feet.
The sinkholes are currently situated less than a mile apart, but every day that distance shrinks as the land between them collapses and erodes by inches very year. Whether more land gives way to form new sinkholes or one massive sinkhole, the results for Kermit and Wink will be disastrous.
“This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities,” Jin-Woo Kim, a coauthor of the report, told Southern Methodist University. “A collapse could be catastrophic. Following our study, we are collecting more high-resolution satellite data over the sinkholes and neighboring regions to monitor further development and collapse.”
Talking to the New York Daily News, Kermit City Manager Gloria Saenz suggested that residents of both towns have taken something of an ignorance-is-bliss approach to the sinkholes.
“At first, people were fighting for the sinkholes, saying ‘It’s the Kermit crater. No, it’s the Wink sink.’ Then when they found out how bad it was everyone was like ‘ahh,’” she said. “They’re a ways off from the highway, if nobody mentions it, then nobody is interested in it.”