Bid To Plug Indonesian Mud Volcano Delayed
Jakarta (AFP) Feb 25, 2007
Heavy rains on Sunday forced a new delay to Indonesian efforts to block a massive mud leak, which has submerged entire villages, with thousands of concrete balls. The audacious bid to plug the misplaced gas well, which has been oozing mud since last May, was earlier put on hold on Saturday when a steel cable hoisting the balls broke.
"The technical problem has since been addressed, but the heavy rains today (Sunday) have made it impossible for us to resume the operations," spokesman Rudi Novrianto told AFP, saying the area was "too unstable."
Entire villages, factories and fields have been submerged, forcing more than 15,000 people from their homes near Surabaya in East Java.
The 'mud volcano' sprang up when exploratory drilling by the PT Lapindo Brantas energy firm pierced an underground chamber of hydrogen sulphide, forcing hot mud to the surface.
Concrete balls ranging from football to beachball-size, chained together in groups of four or five, will be dropped into the 50-meter (165 feet) mud hole by crane under a plan devised by local experts.
About 375 chains of balls weighing 400-500 kilos (880-1,100 pounds) will disappear into the hole, slowing output by about 50-70 percent.
"But this is something entirely new, something which has never been done before, so we are also proceeding on a trial and error basis," Novrianto said.
earlier related report
A gas well near Surabaya in East Java has spewed steaming mud since May last year, submerging villages, factories and fields, and forcing more than 15,000 people to flee their homes.
Around 500 protestors demanding compensation blocked the road junction, which is one of the main southern entrances to Surabaya, and an adjoining railway line, causing huge tailbacks and virtually paralysing the railway system connecting the provincial capital to other parts of East Java.
Police dispersed protestors but they moved south towards Sidoarjo, 20 kilometres (12 miles) away, to continue their protest.
State news agency Antara quoted Surabaya police chief Anang Iskandar as saying about 1,000 police dealt with the incident.
"We will be firm if they block (this) road again," he said, adding that police would consider using force if necessary.
Protestors said they would keep blocking main roads to Surabaya until their demands for compensation were met.
"We will stay here until we are compensated of our losses," protest coordinator Agus Haryanto told AFP.
Railway officer Sudarsono told ElShinta news radio "the protest that started Thursday afternoon at 3:00 pm (0800 GMT) had caused a 5-kilometre (section) to be impassable."
"We have (had) to re-route trains between Surabaya and Malang," he said, adding that at least 40 scheduled train were cancelled or rerouted. "Some of us met with the governor this morning and they offered to relocate us, but we want cash not being relocated," Haryanto said.
Haryanto, who has lost his house, said he had been forced to stay in a temporary shelter with his wife and young child after his house was inundated with the noxious mud. "Only the roof is visible now," he said. Efforts to slow the massive mudflow by plugging the crater with concrete balls have been further delayed.
"We have not secured the cables yet," Rudy Novrianto, spokesman for the government team handling the crisis, told AFP.
The attempt to plug the "mud volcano" involves dropping hundreds of concrete balls chained together in groups from a cable held by two cranes, into the well, which is operated by PT Lapindo Brantas.
The concrete balls are expected to slow the outflow by between 50 and 70 percent.
The advancing sea of mud has blocked a nearby main road and is now threatening to swamp a key railway, which is to be rerouted away from the danger zone.
However, several geologists have said the scheme is likely to fail.
Welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie claimed last month that the flow was a "natural disaster" unrelated to the drilling activities of Lapindo, which belongs to a group controlled by his family.
However, a study by British experts said the eruption was most likely caused by drilling for gas.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already ordered Lapindo to pay 3.8 trillion rupiah (420 million dollars) in compensation and costs related to the disaster.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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