Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Man-Made Mud Disaster in Java

When I first saw this headline in Nature, Mud volcano floods Java - I assumed it was a natural disaster.

Then I saw this headline on ENN, Mud from Indonesian Oil Well Engulfs Key Road Again and realized that they were talking about the same thing. That is a pretty different story if it's created by an oil company than if it is a naturally occurring event. It seems that it is an oil company that triggered a (non-natural) "natural" disaster - we may need new words for these sorts of things.

Naturally - the oil company would like to try to make this out to be a act of nature - not an act of theirs - so that they are not held responsible. (Not that companies usually end up paying the full restitution when they are responsible - ie. Exxon still has not paid their punitive damages from the Valdez Oil Spill - but they would have more legal fees at the very least).

From the ENN article (source Reuters):

SURABAYA, Indonesia — Foul-smelling mud oozing from an exploratory oil well in Indonesia has forced the partial closure of key toll road for the fifth time this month, officials said on Wednesday.

The mudflow is part of an unfolding environmental disaster in East Java province and there appears few signs of a resolution soon.

Authorities and well operator PT Lapindo Brantas have been struggling since late May to plug the mud that has displaced more than 10,000 people from their homes....

The highway is the main transport artery for goods from industrial areas south of East Java's provincial capital.

The noxious mud gives off fumes that have made people ill and caused respiratory problems.

The economic cost has also been mounting with swathes of land in four villages and many shrimp ponds engulfed dotting coastal Sidoarjo regency, famous in Indonesia for its shrimp crackers.

An oil industry watchdog official has said the mudflow could have been triggered by a crack at about 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) in the Banjar Panji-1 exploration well, operated by Indonesia's Lapindo Brantas.

Lapindo is a unit of PT Energi Mega Persada, partly owned by the Bakrie Group, which is controlled by the family of Indonesia's chief social welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie.

Australia's Santos Ltd., which has said it is insured against the problem, has an 18 percent interest, while Indonesia's largest listed energy firm, PT Medco Energi International Tbk, holds the remaining 32 percent. (Additional reporting by Diyan Jari in JAKARTA)


From the Nature article:

"What has happened?"

For 3 months a sea of hot mud has been gushing from the ground in Sidoarjo, East Java, 35 kilometres south of Indonesia's second largest city, Surabaya. The steaming mud pool is growing at an estimated 50,000 cubic metres a day, accompanied by hydrogen sulphide gas, and now reportedly covers more than 25 square kilometres. The flow has not yet been stopped; thousands of people have lost their homes.

....In the case of the East Java mud flow, the mud is thought to have come from a reservoir some 2.7 kilometres below the Earth's surface.

"And what triggers an eruption?"

A number of things can create a crack that allows trapped mud to bubble to the surface; particularly earthquakes and drilling.

Geologist Georg Delisle of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Hannover, Germany, explains that the drilling apparently penetrated into the liquid sediment and created a connection back to the surface. The pressure then squeezed up the mud, like toothpaste from a tube....

"Just how big is the eruption?"

According to many geological experts, the scale of this mud volcano is unprecedented — at least on land.

"Can the disaster be stopped?"

Nobody knows. So far, nothing has worked. PT Lapindo Brantas's senior vice-president Imam Agustino has been quoted saying: "The best-case scenario is now mid-November, but I have to admit it might never be stopped."


1 comment:

winarko said...

just fyi,

this disaster had not been stopped, the companies try to evade their responsibilities, authorities are indecisive. While the victims are left homeless and neglected, none of international relief came, beliefs in the illusion that companies and indonesian authorities had been handling this disaster. While this ongoing calamity also threaten tens of thousand more population living nearby, media coverage in this disaster, somehow lessen and even stopped.