I’m taking a break from my China updates today because I ran across a really fascinating article in Der Spiegel this weekend: “Eruptions Displace Thousands in Indonesia”. This is not, as I had initially expected from the headline, about a volcanic eruption. Rather the article describes a mud volcano which formed back in May of this year and has been spewing hot mud ever since at an unbelievable rate – it started at 5,000 cubic meters a day and is now up to 125,000 cubic meters a day (“enough to transform a soccer field into a pool of mud 17 meters deep”). The volcano has already grown to be almost 50 feet tall.
“So far the mud has claimed 20 factories, 15 mosques, a cemetery and 18 schools. It has closed a section of the main road to Bali and is only a few meters away from flooding an important rail line. Authorities have already declared eight villages partly or completely uninhabitable. More than 12,000 people have been evacuated. But this is only the beginning.”
This is an unusually dramatic illustration of the environmental and human rights disasters that all-too-often occur when multinational companies are given rights to extract resources in developing countries. Although it hasn’t been conclusively proven, many people are laying the blame for the mud volcano on Lapindo Brantas, an oil and gas exploration company. The company constructed a drilling rig only 500 meters from a residential area and then proceeded to drill down to almost 9,500 feet. It seems that this may have released the pressure in a huge underground pool of mud, forcing it up through the surface to form the world’s largest mud volcano. Some experts accuse Lapindo of failing to use standard industry safety equipment. Under pressure from the Indonesian government, Lapindo has accepted responsibility and agreed to pay all damages, estimated at more than $250 million.
Once again, I am also surprised by the failure of U.S. media, even environmental media, to pick up on this.