Location

The eruption is located at sub district of Porong, regency of Sidoarjo, 30 km of Surabaya, the capital city of East Java. As a home to 34 million people, East Java is the second largest province in Indonesia.  

The mud volcano is located 150 meters away from Banjar Panji-1 well and few meters away from major economic and social infrastructure linking Surabaya and surroundings. The disaster area is passed by various important infrastructures such as roadways and the only toll road in the province, railways, electric grid, telephone lines and gas pipes.

Background

Sidoarjo has an area of 634.89 km2, making it as the smallest regency in East Java. Population density of Sidoarjo area is very high, at 2,834 persons per square kilometer. The majority of East Javanese people are Moslems (about 97%). The remaining 3% are Christians, Catholics, and Buddhists. 

The land use in Sidoarjo is classified for rice fields, fishponds, sugar cane plantations and dry field industries and residential. The economic structures of Sidoarjo are mainly manufacturing industry and small scale farming. 

Causes

The oil and gas exploration company Lapindo Brantas had an operation in the region. It had constructed a drilling platform only 500 meters from nearby village. Lapindo engineers drove their drills to a depth of almost 3,000 meters, into what is known as the “Kunjung formation,” where they hoped to find more oil and natural gas. They had explored oil and natural gas at 15 other drilling locations in the wider area. (Evers, 2006)

There are still controversies about the cause, whether it was a natural disaster or not. Lapindo Brantas said that it was an earthquake that triggered the eruption and not their drilling activities. Lapindo Brantas argued that the earthquake was so powerful and had created deep underground faults, allowing the mud to flow thousands of meters away. Two days before the eruption, an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude hit Yogyakarta, killing 6,234 people and displacing more or less 1.5 million people. 

In the other side, people blamed Lapindo Brantas for not using a steel casing to protect the borehole; it is said in the drilling procedure as an essential. Lapindo Brantas insufficiently handled the problem in Banjar Panji-1 well that cracked the ground formation and created channels for the mud flowing to the surface. The study also concludes that the eruption appears to have been triggered by drilling of over-pressured porous and permeable limestones.

Impacts

Since May 29, 2006, the mud volcano has been spewing steaming mud around 150,000 cubic meters of sediments; it is equal to about 50 Olympic swimming pools.Around 11,000 people have been forced from their homes, four villages and 25 factories have been buried by a 9 meter layer of smelly mud; as the factories destroyed, 9000 workers lost their job as well. 

In November, a natural gas pipeline cracked under the weight of a dam built to direct the mud to the sea. It caused a powerful explosion that killed 13 people and injured others. 

The government has said that it will seek an initial $420 million in damages from Lapindo, including $276 million paid to the victims, by March 2007. (The Associated Press, 2006

The mud volcano also caused environmental impacts; it produces white smokes that contain hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous chemical substance. East Java WALHI identified that the day after the volcano erupted, there were found dead fishes around the irrigation waterway. Water resources (water well and river) in three villages also became poisonous.

Strategies

The earlier moves taken was building temporary embankments surrounding the mud volcano, the engineers thought they would block the mud flow for a while. However, these temporary embankments were not very efective; they keep broken down because of the pressures received from the mud.  

Indonesian engineers from Bandung Institute of Technology have invented large concrete balls to block the eruption. The idea is to drop the 1,000 or more balls linked with chains in group of four. The result was not very successful, it stopped the eruption for about 30 minutes but then the mud continues to flow.

Those embankments and concrete balls have failed to block the mud flow. People lived near the volcano were worried and desperately put their hope to the company and government to solve the disaster.  

There were 300 people who have come to pray and some of them even cast live goats and chickens into the hot bubbling mud, hoping the mud would stop.

As all the earlier strategies have failed, Indonesian and Japanese engineers are now planning to build a large concrete dam 15 storeys’ high to stop the mud flow. The dam surrounding the volcano would be 10 meters thick and 120 meters in diameter. The wall itself would consist of two separate fences of thick steel pipes encased in concrete up to 48 meters high. The dam is expected to be done in eight months, it would also featured by a geology museum and a park; all of them estimated to cost 5.6 million dollars.

Australians Involvement

Mud volcano has spewed from the earth, submerging villages, factories and fields and displacing thousands. As the most-responsible Lapindo Brantas have to clean up all this mess and replace all the losses. However, Lapindo Brantas is not the only one guilty. As it has on 18 per cent stake in the gas exploration project, Australian mining company Santos have to be responsible as well.  

But now it is a bit difficult for Santos because it have not been served with any documents related to the disaster. Santos has estimated the cost for drilling relief wells and mud management would be around US$ 80 million to US$ 180 million; its share of US$ 180 million would amount up to US$ 32.96 million. 

Santos payment for compensation to the people affected would be used to construct new houses, factories, etc. But, the most important thing for now is to keep providing food and daily supplies for displaced people. For long term use, the compensation money would be used to construct concrete dam and other alternatives to manage the mud.

References

  • Evers, Marco. (2006). Eruptions Displace Thousands in Indonesia. Retrieved: September 19, 2007, http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,442408,00.html.
  • The Associated Press. (2007). Indonesia‘s mudflows attributed to drilling. Retrieved: September 20, 2007, http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/24/news/indo.php.
  • Mydans, Seth. (2007). Indonesian scientists drop concrete balls into mud volcano. Retrieved: September 20, 2007, http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/22/news/mud.php.