Final verdict: the Indonesian village-eating mud-erupting volcano known as Lusi was triggered by oil and gas drilling two years ago. The eruption began in May 2006 when Lapindo Brantas, owned by the family of billionaire Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, began exploratory drilling of a borehole named Banjar-Panji-1. Since then Lusi’s oozing eruption has inundated rice paddies and villages, destroyed 10,000 homes and displaced 30,000 people. Now a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters shows exactly how drilling caused Lusi’s birth. Lead author Richard Davies says, “We show that the day before the mud volcano started there was a huge ‘kick’ in the well, which is an influx of fluid and gas into the wellbore. We show that after the kick the pressure in the well went beyond a critical level. This resulted in the leakage of the fluid from the well and the rock formations to the surface—a so called ‘underground blowout’. This fluid picked up mud during its accent and Lusi was born.
Lapindo Brantas initially claimed the Yogyakarta earthquake, which occurred two days before and 155 miles away, caused Lusi’s birth. However the oil and gas company now confirms the published data on Lusi are correct and their drilling was the trigger, reports Durham University.
The question now is whether, as some suspect, Lapindo Brantas will simply fold into bankruptcy to avoid paying penalties or reparations. Especially now since another study by Davies at Durham University suggests Lusi is beginning to collapse—precursor to becoming a huge sunken caldera, worsening the environmental disaster.
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Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.