In the densely populated Sidoarjo area in East Java, Indonesia, there is a huge expanse of mud, that is the result of a mud volcano that has been spewing since May 2006. The disaster, known as the Lusi mudflow — a contraction of Lumpur Sidoarjo where lumpur is the Indonesian word for mud — has inundated rice paddies and fish ponds, engulfed factories and schools, and destroyed houses in a dozen village, resulting in the displacement of 30,000 to 40,000 people.
At its peak, the Sidoarjo mud flow, also known as the Lapindo mud flow, was spewing up to 180,000 cubic meters of mud per day. Its discharge rate is mercifully half today, but it will continue to flow for the next 25 to 30 years, at least. Disaster response teams tried everything they could to stop the mud, from plugging the hole in the ground with concrete to carting away the mud on trucks. A network of levees around the volcano now contain most of the mud. What couldn’t be contained was allowed to fall into a nearby river, where it has formed a new island and extended the natural delta.
The mud volcano started nine years ago but opinion is still divided as to what caused the eruption. Some say it was an oil drilling experiment gone wrong, since the mud started gushing out of a vent the oil company had drilled. Others say it was triggered by a magnitude-6.3 earthquake that had rocked the region two days earlier. The scientific community blame PT Lapindo Brantas, the drilling company. According to several independent studies, the volcano was not a natural disaster, but the result of oil and gas drilling. The earthquake was a mere coincidence.
The Indonesian government initially tried to protect PT Lapindo by declaring it a natural disaster, thus absolving PT Lapindo of any liability for compensation. It can hardly be a coincidence that the Indonesian Minister of Welfare at that time was Aburizal Bakrie, whose family part owned the company PT Lapindo Brantas. The new government is but pressuring PT Lapindo Brantas to cough up the money needed to clean-up the environment and pay compensation to the people affected in the disaster. Payments, however, have been slow to come leading to frequent protests.