Environment & the World

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Indonesian Mud Volcano Update

Filed under: Environmental Justice, Geology, Natural Disasters — Cathy @ 9:11 pm

In a previous post, I discussed the mud volcano in Indonesia that has been spewing hot mud in East Java since May.  About 12,000 people have been forced to flee their homes as the mud has flowed over the landscape, destroying villages and croplands.  As if that weren’t enough, just this week another tragedy unfolded as a result of the mud volcano.  Because of the outpouring of mud from underground, land surrounding the volcano has sunk by about 5 meters; this week, the pressure from this land subsidence cracked a natural gas pipeline, causing a serious explosion, according to an article in the Hong Kong Standard.  “The blast shot flames 500 meters into the night sky and burst a dyke built to contain hot mud that has inundated East Java’s Sidoarjo district, sweeping away vehicles and forcing the closure of a nearby highway”  The explosion killed at least 8 people and dozens more are missing or injured.  According to an Australian radio program, other companies with pipelines in the region have shut down their production to avoid similar disasters (http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2006/s1796100.htm).

There is still no end in site from the mud volcano.  According to Nur Hidayati from Greenpeace Indonesia, “The area that has been covered by the mud is around 400 hectares … it is predicted that already six million cubic meters of mud has already gone out … the volume of the mud is now reaching 150,000 cubic meters per day, with a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius.”  In my previous post last month, I reported a rate of 125,000 cubic meters a day.  Recent articles contain little speculation about the original cause of the mud volcano, although the likely culprit (as I said in previous post) is an oil and gas exploration company, Lapindo Brantas, that may have engaged in unsafe practices that triggered the mud eruption.  Workers are trying hard to build dykes to contain the mud, to pump some of it into the ocean, and to try to cap the flow of mud, but it is by no means clear whether such efforts will be successful.

Lapindo Brantas agreed to pay for all damages resulting from the mud volcano, which now include the costs of human life.  However, according to an article in Al-Jazeera, it appears that the company is so far not living up to its promises.  People who have been forced to resettle as a result of the mud volcano claim that the money paid to them by the company has been insufficient to compensate for their loss of home and livelihood.   Ironically, according to the Al-Jazeera article, “Lapindo Brantas [is] a subsidiary of PT Energi Mega Persada (EMP), Indonesia’s second largest publicly listed energy company. EMP is controlled by the family of a senior cabinet minister, Aburizal Bakrie. He is minister of people’s welfare.”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Indonesian Mud Volcano

Filed under: Environmental Justice, Geology, Natural Disasters — Cathy @ 12:16 pm

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. 

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