(IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE)
By Pam Eastlick
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I thought I’d start today with a little news update. Do you remember the mud volcano in Indonesia? Well, let’s take a little trip down memory lane because there’s recent news about Lusi. Keep reading! I wrote this first section two years ago, and the figures on size and people displaced have changed. You’ll get the latest figures in the last section of the article.
I’ve followed with great interest the saga of the Indonesian mud volcano called Lusi that first erupted near Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia three years ago in May of 2006. Mud volcanoes are not unheard of. There are at least 2,000 worldwide including one in the Santa Barbara Channel near Redondo Beach California. But the mud volcano in Indonesia may be one of the few caused by humans.
The viscosity of mud volcanoes is wildly variable. Some look like volcanoes with thick mud flowing from a raised central crater, while others simply look like slowly growing mounds of dirt that are squeezed out of a crack like toothpaste. Others erupt mud that is much thinner and this describes what’s flowing out of the ground in Indonesia. Lusi’s mud is about 70% water and instead of mounding up, is flowing disastrously over the countryside. Since Lusi erupted in May 2006, the soupy mud has covered four square miles to a depth of 16 feet in some places, submerged parts of four villages and displaced about 25,000 people.
When the flow started in May of 2006, Lusi was erupting about a quarter of a million cubic feet of mud every single day. Now, however, the rate has increased to over 5 million cubic feet a day and it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. In addition, scientists predict that if the underlying mud is drained, the land above it will begin to sag and there may be a dramatic collapse into the empty hole left behind. (Lusi is already sinking and may in fact form that gigantic hole.)
So, what caused Lusi? Lusi erupted from a gas well that was operated by Lapindo Brantas, Inc. one of Indonesia’s biggest oil companies. And we have two interesting opinions about what caused that eruption. On the one hand, we have a statement from Indonesia’s coordinating minister for social welfare, Aburizal Bakrie. He says the volcano is a “natural disaster” unrelated to the drilling activities. Mr. Bakrie stated, “It is not because of the Lapindo drill case but it is because of the quake.” He was referring to an earthquake that occurred two days before the Lusi eruption near the ancient city of Yogyakarta that killed around 6,000 people.
Now that ‘drill case’ he mentions is in response to a finding made by a team led by British scientist Richard Davies, a professor at the University of Durham’s Center for Research into Earth Energy Systems in northeastern England.
That study reported that the kind of drilling done by Lapindo in the geographical regions into which they drilled requires the use of steel casing to support the borehole, to protect against the pressure of fluids such as water, oil or gas.
Mr. Davies reported in a press release; “In the case of Lusi, a pressured limestone rock containing water — a water aquifer — was drilled while the lower part of the borehole was exposed and not protected by casing. As a result, rocks fractured and a mix of mud and water worked its way to the surface. Our research brings us to the conclusion that the incident was most probably the result of drilling.”
So was it drilling or was it the earthquake? Does it make a difference when I tell you that Mr. Aburizal Bakrie, whose job it is to be concerned about social welfare, is one of the wealthiest men in Indonesia and his family firm controls Lapindo Brantas? Apparently that fact made a difference to the president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who ordered Lapindo to pay 3.8 trillion rupiah ($421 million) in compensation and costs related to the mudflow.
Aerial view of Lusi
IT WAS THE DRILLING
In more of the ongoing Lusi story, in 2008, an international team of petroleum geologists met at Cape Town, South Africa and concluded that Lusi was not a ‘natural’ volcano. She’s man-made.
The 74 scientists considered the evidence presented by four experts in the field and then voted on two scenarios. Forty-two scientists voted that Lusi was triggered when Lapindo Brantas, an Indonesian oil company drilled the gas exploration well called Banjar-Panji-1. Only three scientists voted for the alternative explanation. This hypothesis stated that Luisi’s eruption was triggered by an earthquake that occurred two days earlier with an epicenter located 175 miles from Lusi. Sixteen scientists voted that the evidence was inconclusive and 13 said that a combination of earthquake and drilling were the cause.
There was some pretty strong evidence that the drilling triggered Lusi. The key points presented to support the drilling hypothesis were:
· the earthquake was too small and too far away to have been the trigger.
· the well was being drilled when Lusi erupted and is only 500 feet from the volcano site.
· large amounts of water were pumped into the well the day before the eruption, resulting in pressures the sides of the well couldn’t tolerate.
· the pressure measured in the well after the influx provides strong evidence that the well was leaking and even evidence for the initial eruption at the surface.
One of the speakers, leading geologist Professor Richard Davies of Durham University, UK, commented: “The conference allowed us to present new data on the pressures in the well the day before the eruption and these provide a compelling tape recording of the well as it started to leak. We were particularly grateful to Lapindo, the company involved in the drilling, who were widely applauded at the meeting for their willingness to take part in the discussion.”
Prof Davies added: “I remain convinced that drilling was the cause of the mud volcano. The opinion of the international scientists at the event in South Africa adds further weight to my conviction and the conclusions of many other leading scientists who have studied Lusi.”
Susila Lusiaga a drilling engineer and part of the Indonesian police investigation team said: “There is no question, the pressures in the well went way beyond what it could tolerate – and it triggered the mud volcano.”
Michael Manga, Professor of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California, Berkeley, said: “The key observation from an earthquake perspective is that there were many much larger and quite a bit closer earthquakes that did not trigger an eruption. The Yogyakarta earthquake was simply too small and too far away to initiate an eruption.”
IT WAS THE EARTHQUAKE
Brave words, guys but it didn’t do any good. In the latest news on Lusi, almost three years to the day from the eruption, Indonesia’s supreme court ruled that it had cleared the government and Lapindo of any wrongdoing related to Lusi’s eruption. The mud has now wiped out 12 villages, killed 13 people and displaced more than 42,000 people in the Sidoarjo district of East Java since it burst from a drilling well operated by the Lapindo company on May 29, 2006.
The company, which is connected to powerful Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, has however agreed to pay millions of dollars in damages to help affected villagers rebuild their lives. However, three years later many victims complain they have received only a fraction of the payout.
In a short statement, court spokesman Nurhadi said judges agreed with earlier rulings in lower courts that cleared the company and the government of neglect related to the disaster.
“The Supreme court has rejected an appeal filed by YLBHI,” he told reporters, referring to the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation. The YLBHI had argued that the government and Lapindo had failed to prevent the disaster and properly compensate thousands of displaced families.
YLBHI lawyer Zainal Abidin said the supreme court’s judgement was a major blow to the victims, many of whom are now unemployed and live in squalid bamboo shacks awaiting full compensation.
“The judges should have taken into consideration the people’s needs. The court has failed to deliver justice,” he told AFP.
Some 800 hectares (1,977 acres) of villages and fertile farming land now lie beneath the stinking, hot sludge, which continues to spew out of the Lapindo well despite the company’s containment efforts. About 6,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since October as the volcano, dubbed ‘Lusi,’ breaks man-made embankments and devours more land, officials said.
But the people who have lost their homes and are in danger of losing their homes to Lusi don’t have to worry. In a stunning show of compassion, Lapindo Brantas came up with the ultimate solution for them. The company funded a soap opera called “Digging a Hole, Filling a Hole.” Set amidst the misery of the mud, “Digging …” was a love story that reportedly shows the virtues of patience – something in short supply these days.
And in the ultimate news update? “Digging . . . “ was NOT a hit in Indonesian TV. Big surprise, huh?
Cruise on over to the Deep Website at www.thedeepradioshow.com to learn more about taking mud baths and many other topics. Enjoy!