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Everything’s Bigger in Texas and the West Texas Wink Sinkholes are No Exception

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Tony Maples Photography


The Wink sinkholes are not unfamiliar to the average Texan, and not even to many outside of our fair state. But for those that need a refresher, and those that are simply curious, the vast expanse that is known as West Texas is home to many things, not the least of which are deep depressions in the earth, cavernous, wide, and apparently expanding.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas And The West Texas Wink Sinkholes Are No Exception

Photo: Facebook/Activista Fara Frontiere

Wink has an estimated population as of 2015, according to the US Census Bureau, of just over 1,000 people. It’s quiet and friendly like most small Texas towns, but it has one stand-out feature that many townspeople would probably rather wish didn’t exist. Back in 1980, a local oil company contractor who was performing an inspection on pipelines just north of town noticed a nearby splash. Finding it odd that this would take place in a normally flat, dry field, he moved closer to investigate and discovered a 20-foot-wide sinkhole. At the time, its depth measured four stories to the water down below, and within a two-hour window, its width grew to a diameter of 100 feet. By the following day, it had opened as wide as 350 feet and was cause for major concern, considering it was located close to a field of oil storage tanks on one side, and a few hundred yards from local highway access on the other. Neither was threatened over the next several weeks, however, when the sinkhole development subsided, a water line and a utility pole were casualties in the process.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas And The West Texas Wink Sinkholes Are No Exception

Photo: Facebook/Kenny Mcgee

Nicknamed the “Wink Sink”, the town became less worried about the matter as time passed, and the earth in the area appeared to stabilize. Then in 2002, a second similar sinkhole appeared, and this time it was a mile and a half from town. In keeping with the original naming process, locals dubbed it “Wink Sink 2”, however, this hole started out at approximately the size in which the first hole ended, and its growth continued at approximately 10 feet per day, continuing to expand. Now more than 750 feet wide and over 1,000 feet long, Wink Sink 2 is larger than its predecessor and has swallowed up outer fencing barriers twice, which were established as approximate safe perimeters.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas And The West Texas Wink Sinkholes Are No Exception

Photo: Facebook/A Slice of Texas

The causes for the two sinkholes vary in terms of opinion and theory. Some believe that the area’s history of oil extraction might have something to do with it. Others believe the holes are somehow connected to the Carlsbad Caverns (which are situated less than 100 miles northwest), however a full investigation into the Wink Sinks has yet to occur. As recently as the spring of 2016, scientists have determined through study of satellite images (because that’s how big these holes are – they can be seen from space!) that the holes haven’t finished their dilations, and may, in fact, touch each other at some point given the right amount of instability, which is unclear at this time just when that might be.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas And The West Texas Wink Sinkholes Are No Exception

Photo: Facebook/TubeNews.net

Scientists out of Southern Methodist University have new proof that the two sinkholes are expanding based on recent research. Their explanation is that years of oil and gas drilling washing away salt beds underground. Couple that with a shifting water table which has exacerbated the problem, and you have a recipe for disaster. In some spaces, they identify that the ground is sinking approximately five inches per year. This provides the basis for the hypothesis that the two holes could converge into one, which scientists have stated could be catastrophic.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas And The West Texas Wink Sinkholes Are No Exception

Photo: Facebook/Extra-Terrestrial Around the Web

In the interim, monitoring continues on the Wink Sinks. Townspeople haven’t been asked for comment, although you would think that Wink residents might have cause for concern. In an interview with WBUR public radio, Winkler County Sheriff George Keely stated, “It’s pretty scary. It’s just a big huge pit. It’s like standing on the moon looking into a crater. And you can see where it’s just caved off. It’s broken off over the years more and more. When you look down there, you’re looking at water.” And not out of the realm of possibility is the concept that a third sinkhole could appear before complete instability of the area is confirmed, however to date their roadways have been monitored and appear out of harm’s way, and locals, as well as officials in Wink, are going about business as usual.



WBUR Public Radio