What are the real consequences of interfering with the layers underneath the earth?
Poisonous mud wreaks havoc on Java
Poisonous mud and gas is erupting from kilometres below the earth and 8,000 people are displaced and hundreds hospitalised on the Indonesian island of Java. The calamity has been caused by a gas exploration project near Surabaya in East Java that has gone horribly wrong, and for the past six weeks, has unleashed hundreds of tonnes of hot toxic mud.
Indonesia’s police are threatening to charge some of the drill operators with criminal negligence, with two Australian companies caught up in the row.
Oil and gas giant Santos is a minority shareholder in the venture, while the expertise of another Australian company – Century Resources – has been called in to try and halt the blow out.
Six weeks ago, a drilling rig on this site reached three kilometres underground and encountered a problem.
Attempts were made to shut the well, but then the earth opened up.
First, a major crack appeared and now they have appeared all around, spewing at least 500 cubic metres of toxic mud every day.
An area of 12 square kilometres has now been covered and four entire villages have been affected, displacing almost 8,000 people.
The house of the residents of Sidoarjo are chest-deep in mud, along with their rice paddies and the factories where they work.
Thousands of the internally displaced now live at this new concrete market complex, turned refugee camp.
Each person surviving on handouts of $11 a week.
Imam Kholili has lost both his family’s home, and his livelihood.
His street is now under more than 1m of mud and he says the inside of his home is even worse.
“It came from that direction, the one who saw it coming first was my wife, because she was selling stuff out here,” he said.
“The men were actually working out here fixing the dam, but the dam was not strong enough, so my wife started rescuing our children and our belongings to take them to the camp when the mud came, flowing like hot water.”
Compensation Stopping the mud flows could take months, despite attempts to do so with a snubbing unit brought in by the project’s coordinator and majority shareholder, Lapindo Brantas.
The final compensation bill is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
One of the project’s minority partners: the Australian gas and oil giant, Santos, released a statement saying that it has appropriate insurance cover for such occurrences.
Santos, which has an 18 per cent stake in the venture, does not want to comment further, other than to say that: “Santos is deeply concerned by [the] incident, particularly its impact on the local community and the environment”.
“Santos is monitoring the response efforts closely, with an immediate priority of supporting measures by the Operator of the well to assist those affected and to minimise the environmental impact.”
The project’s other partner is PTMedco with a 32 per cent stake.
While it will not comment publicly, a leaked letter to Lapindo Brantas makes it clear where it stands.
“We consider Lapindo Brantas has committed a gross negligence [for not] anticipating potential hole problems [and setting the right drill-casing] as agreed in the drilling program,” the letter reads.
Santos declined an opportunity to comment on the letter, but a representative of the Bakrie family group, S Zudhi Pane, which owns Lapindo Brantas, says all the project’s partners agreed to the drilling program.
“Of course, even from the very beginning when we propose, Lapindo Brantas proposed to drill this, the drilling proposal as well as the agreed drilling procedure and program agreed by all the parties, including Santos,” he said.
Police investigation The drilling contractor hired by Lapindo is currently the focus of a police
Fifty people have been interviewed and six may face charges punishable by up to 12 years in jail.
Environmentalists say the searing mud is a toxic brew of harmful chemicals churned up with dangerous gases.
Indonesian Environment Forum spokesman Torry Kuswardono says it can cause infection to the respiratory systems.
“There are two things: first, it’s the mud and second, it’s the gas, the hydrogen sulphide,” he said.
Hundreds hospitalised Hundreds of people, particularly the young and old, have been hospitalised, complaining of nausea, diahorrea and breathing problems, others just get burnt.
“Bad, the skin is peeled off on both legs. It’s been one week and they’re still feeling hot,” patient Achmad Basyori said.
The Sidoarjo incident is a toxic cocktail of political power, corporate negligence and environmental disaster, which has the nation’s activists looking for someone on whom the mud might stick.
Bandung Institute of Technology spokesman Harya Setyaka S Dillon says the country has never seen a disaster like this in such magnitude.
“The backyard of all these people, so many affected by this, and sort of a blatant disregard by the very senior officials of the government,” he said.
Mr Kushwardono says he things everybody who were involved to invest in Lapindo in Brantas plot has to be embarrassed because of these accidents.
“Because they invest in a very irresponsible project,” he said.
No imminent solution is in sight, but another Australian company – Century Resources – is on its way, hoping that its 1,500 tonne drilling rig might relieve at least some of the pressure underground. ABC News