|Page 2 of 2 <|
Torrent Of Mud Swamps Indonesia
The sludge has repeatedly washed over a major road, closing it for weeks at a time, and now it is threatening a rail line in the industrial area just outside Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city.
The mud, which is not toxic, first appeared several days after a blowout deep in Lapindo's well shaft May 29.
Police claim the company mishandled the accident by failing to cap the hole properly, allowing the mud to surge to the surface from several cracks close to the well.
Independent analysts also have said the company's activities were a factor in the torrent.
"This is a natural disaster induced by drilling activity," said Andang Bactiar, a consultant for the oil and gas industry who is working with authorities investigating the case. "Somehow, or somewhere, several mistakes occurred that caused the mud to come from the hole."
The company declined to give its version of what happened or the steps it took to stem the mud, citing possible legal liability. But spokeswoman Yuniwati Teryana said drilling activity had not been proven to be linked to the eruption.
The well is 50 percent owned by Lapindo. Another Indonesian firm, PT Medco E&P Brantas, has a 32 percent stake and Santos Ltd. of Australia holds the remaining 18 percent.
Lapindo has made emergency payments to those who have lost homes and promises to compensate their losses.
But in a country where mistrust of government runs high after decades of dictatorship that ended only in 1998, many people fear the company will try to dodge its responsibilities. The involvement of Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie's family in Lapindo has only added to worries.
"We are just poor people, our rights will be torn up as usual," one resident, Sukararji, said as he stood on a dam gazing at mud that reaches the second-floor windows of his house. "We are being stepped on like ants."
After two unsuccessful attempts to stop the flow, Lapindo is digging three shafts alongside the hole, hoping to kill the eruption by pumping in concrete.
Experts are skeptical that will work.
"If they manage to stop it, it will be the first time in the world that it has been done," said geologist Arif Munsyawar.