Technology & Science

Geologists say drilling caused Indonesian mud volcano

Drilling at a nearby gas well caused the eruption of a mud volcano in Indonesia that swamped villages and displaced around 30,000 people, according to a group of leading geologists.

Drilling at a nearby gas well caused the eruption of a mud volcano in Indonesia that swamped villages and displaced around 30,000 people, according to a group of leading geologists.

A majority of the scientists meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, at a conference of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists concluded the drilling in the Banjar-Panji-1 well was the cause of the May 29, 2006, eruption of the volcano, located in East Java, Indonesia.

The volcano, named Lusi, has been spewing boiling mud since it erupted and continues to flow at a rate of 100,000 cubic metres per day, or enough to fill 53 Olympic swimming pools, according to Richard Davies, a geologist with Durham University in the U.K.

All efforts to stop the flow, including a network of dams and an ambitious plan to plug the crater with 1,500 concrete balls, have failed.

The eruption has also been blamed for the deaths of 13 people, after a natural gas pipeline underneath one of the holding dams ruptured.

Geologists for the oil and gas company Lapindo Brantas argued that the blame lay with an earthquake that shook the island two days before the eruption.

Davies, who argued that drilling was to blame, was one of four presenters making their case about the cause of the eruption to the assembled petroleum geologists.

Davies said the well's proximity to the eruption — 150 metres from the volcano site — made it a more likely candidate to have caused the eruption. The earthquake's epicentre, on the other hand, was 280 km from the mud volcano.

Pressure readings from the well before the eruption also rose sharply the day before the eruption, suggesting it had begun to leak and had taken in a huge influx of fluid, said Davies.

Of the 74 geologists at the conference, 42 concluded the drilling in the area by the oil and gas company was responsible. Three geologists supported the company's view that the earthquake was to blame.

Sixteen geologists voted that the evidence was inconclusive, while another 13 voted that a combination of the drilling and earthquake was to blame.

Indonesian authorities are investigating the eruption to determine whether the drilling operators will be liable for compensating some 10,000 families a total of $77 million.