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Full story of the Sidoarjo mud flow

Birth of a mud volcano: East Java, by Richard J. Davies, Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems (CeREES), University of Durham, UK


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Sidoarjo mud flow - Lumpur Sidoarjo
(also known as the Lapindo mud flow, or Lusi)

May 2006 the biggest mud volcano in the world; responsibility for it was credited to the blowout of a natural gas well drilled by PT Lapindo Brantas, although some scientists and company officials contend it was caused by an earthquake which happened a couple of days earlier, 250 kilometres (125 miles) away.

Thirteen people have died and nearly 50,000 people were displaced.

Lusi, located in the Sidoarjo district of the island of Java, erupted on May 29, 2006 in the middle of a rice field.

It has destroyed 13 villages, dozens of factories and shops and a highway, prompting the government to build dykes 10 metres (33 feet) high to try to contain its spread.

Lusi villages have disappeared under the mud, which is 60 feet (18 meters) deep in places, according to a 2008 article in National Geographic magazine.

At its peak Lusi spewed up to 180,000 m (6.4 million cubic feet) of mud per day.

By mid August 2011, mud was being discharged at a rate of 10,000 m per day, with 15 bubbles around its gushing point. This was a significant decline from the previous year, when mud was being discharged at a rate of 100,000 cubic metres per day with 320 bubbles around its gushing point.

By 2013, the rate has fallen to between 15,000 and 20,000 cu. m.(500,000 and 700,000 cu. ft.) per day, according to the government's Sidoarjo Mudflow Mitigation Agency, or BPLS - FoxNews.

It is expected that the flow will continue for the next 25 to 30 years. Although the Sidoarjo mud flow has been contained by levees since November 2008, resultant flooding regularly disrupt local highways and villages, and further breakouts of mud are still possible.

Amein Widodo, a geologist from the Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology in nearby Surabaya city, said it was impossible to predict how long the volcano would keep erupting.

"The amount of mud has reduced a lot, but having seen other cases in Java, it's possible it could erupt for more than 100 years," said Widodo.

Cause of the Mud Volcano - gas drilling or natural?

The most likely cause according to a majority of experts was the gas exploration well, Banjar-Panji-1, drilling about 500 feet (150 m) from the mud volcano.

In 2008, during a conference in South Africa, supporters of both hypotheses presented their arguments before a panel of independent experts.

The debate was chaired by Edinburgh University's Professor John Underhill, who was also a top level football referee.

The majority of experts, 42 out of 74, favoured the drilling explanation.

Professor Davies supported the drilling hypothesis: "There is a lot of evidence now that shows it was caused by drilling - there was a blowout that was not controlled."

In 2008, the company that was drilling in the area and blamed for triggering the volcano agreed to pay compensation to the 50,000 displaced people. However, it did not say the drilling activities were the sole cause of the volcano. - BBC

A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2013 supported the theory that an earthquake 250 kms away two days earlier caused the mud volcano.

Asked to comment on the study, British geologist Richard Davies pointed to the daily drilling reports from the Lapindo Brantas team at Sidoarjo.

It showed their gas exploration was going awry, Davies said.

On the day of the eruption, the drillers acknowledged that they were having problems in stabilising pressure in the hole, a routine procedure that uses injected fluids, as they sought to withdrew their drill bit, he said.

That, and the lack of protective casing around the hole, "was like pulling the cork out of a champagne bottle," causing a "kick" of high-pressure mud to blow from the hole, Davies, a professor at Durham University, told AFP in a phone interview.

"When the Yogyakarta earthquake occurred, nothing happened in the well. The pressure in the well was already many orders of magnitude bigger than the pressure changes due to the Yogyakarta earthquake," Davies.

"They've come up with an elaborate geophysical model but I think they've ignored the more obvious data," said Davies said.

Seismologists have widely, but not unanimously, sided with his explanation. Some note that much larger earthquakes had previously occurred closer to Sidoarjo yet not caused any mud volcano. - FoxNews

Responsibility & Compensation

Oil and gas company Lapindo Brantas, which operated the well, claimed the eruption was due to natural causes. However, the Indonesian government, citing research from an international team of scientists, have instead held the company financially responsible, demanding it pay $420 million to cover retribution for the victims and aid efforts to stop the mud flow. - Huffington Post

All victims have received some compensation, some of them from the government and others from Lapindo Brantas, despite its claim of no wrongdoing. The company is part of a business empire controlled by Indonesia's powerful Bakrie family.

Around 5,000 people are still waiting for full payment, according to an AFP report published in July 2013.

Santos Exits

The Australian oil and gas company Santos Ltd. was a minority partner in the venture until 2008. In December 2008, the company sold its 18% stake in the project to Minarak Labuan, the owner of Lapindo Brantas Inc.

Labuan also received a payment from Santos of $US22.5 million ($A33.9 million) "to support long-term mud management efforts". The amount was covered by existing provision for costs relating to the incident.

Santos had provisioned for $US79 million ($A119.3 million) in costs associated with the disaster. Santos had stated in June 2006 that it maintained "appropriate insurance coverage for these types of occurrences".

IndustrySearch - Santos Ltd has distanced itself from exposure to liability claims related to a mud-flow disaster in Indonesia after selling its minority stake in the gas project.

The disaster in May 2006 affected entire villages and thousands of people and there has been debate since about whether it was related to drilling for gas or an unrelated geological event.

Any liability claims are expected to be high and the clean up costs alone could run into the billions of dollars, according to earlier Indonesian reports.

Santos said on Thursday in a statement it would receive a "release" from the project participants covering "any past, present or future claims ... in connection with the incident".

The oil and gas producer said it would sell its 18 per cent stake in the asset in Sidoarjo, East Java, to Minarak Labuan, the owner of project operator Lapindo Brantas Inc.

Lapindo Brantas already owns 50 per cent of the project while private Indonesian oil and gas company Medco holds the remaining 32 per cent.

"The transfer has been approved by BPMIGAS, the relevant regulatory body of the Indonesian government," Santos said in a statement.

Santo also said it would pay Minarak $US22.5 million ($A33.9 million) "to support long-term mud management efforts".

"This amount will be covered by existing provision for costs relating to the incident."

Santos said in June 2006 it had maintained "appropriate insurance coverage for these types of occurrences".

It has provisioned for $US79 million ($A119.3 million) in costs associated with the disaster.

Mud has flowed at the project since early 2006, displacing tens of thousands of villagers.

The main vent of the Lusi mud volcano taken within a few months of eruption. (Courtesy of Greenpeace images)

Javan mud volcano triggered by drilling, not quake

By Claire Whitelaw, Durham University, and Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations

BERKELEY 09 June 2008 A two-year-old mud volcano that is still spewing huge volumes of boiling mud, has displaced more than 30,000 people and caused millions of dollars in damage on the island of Java was triggered by the drilling of a gas exploration well, an international team of scientists has concluded.

The most detailed scientific analysis to date of the mud volcano disproves the theory that an earthquake that happened two days before it erupted in East Java, Indonesia, was to blame.

In the new analysis, the scientists outline and analyze a detailed record of operational incidents during the drilling of a gas exploration well, Banjar-Panji-1, that had been kept by oil and gas company Lapindo Brantas, which operated the well.

"We are more certain than ever that the Lusi mud volcano is an unnatural disaster and was triggered by drilling the Banjar-Panji-1 well," said lead author Richard Davies, a professor of earth sciences at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

Satellite image of the Lusi mud volcano. The white plume in the centre of the picture is steam from the central vent of the volcano. (Ikonos satellite image, copyright CRISP NUS 2007/200)

The report by British, American, Indonesian and Australian scientists, including UC Berkeley's Michael Manga, professor of earth and planetary sciences, was published this week in the academic journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Lusi, already more than seven square kilometers (2.5 square miles) in extent, is still flowing at 100,000 cubic meters per day, enough to fill 53 Olympic swimming pools or submerge a football field under 610 feet of mud, the depth of a 61-story building.

Davies published research in January 2007 that argued that the drilling was most likely to blame for the eruption of Lusi on May 29, 2006. Manga subsequently published findings pointing a finger at drilling rather than an earthquake.

Davies' and Manga's initial theory was challenged not only by the company that drilled the well, but also by some experts who argued that the cause was the 6.3 magnitude Yogyakarta earthquake and its aftershocks that shook the island two days before the eruption.

The epicenter of that earthquake, which caused almost 6,000 deaths in the capital, was 250 kilometers (160 miles) from the mud volcano, which is in the Porong subdistrict of Sidoarjo in East Java.

As part of the new study, Manga and UC Berkeley graduate student Maria Brumm undertook a systematic study to test the claims that the eruption was caused by this earthquake. They found that none of the ways earthquakes trigger eruptions could have played a role in Lusi.

"We have known for hundreds of years that earthquakes can trigger eruptions. In this case, the earthquake was simply too small and too far away," Manga said.

The new report concludes that the effect of the earthquake was minimal because the change in pressure underground due to the earthquake would have been tiny - much less, in fact, than the pressure changes generated by the tides or variations in atmospheric pressure. Instead, the scientists said they are "99 percent" certain that drilling operations were to blame.

"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," said Davies, of Durham University's Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems (CeREES).

"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 ascent, and Lusi was born."

The leaking pressurized fluid fractured the surrounding rock, allowing the mud to spurt out of cracks rather than out of the wellhead, which normally could have been capped to stanch the flow. Davies said that chances of controlling this pressure would have been increased if there was more protective casing in the borehole.

"There is not a hope on Earth they are going to stop it now," Manga added. "You can plug up a hole, but if you try to plug a crack, stuff just flows around the plug, or the crack gets bigger. The well now has no effect on the erupting mud, it was just the trigger that initiated it."

Manga noted that mud volcanoes are hard to study because they frequently erupt underwater, such as in the Gulf of Mexico, where sediments are laid down rapidly. Lusi, which is short for lumpur Sidoarjo, Indonesian for Sidoarjo mud, is so far the world's largest known mud volcano and, because of its accessibility, the most studied active one.

"It's sad, because lots and lots of people are displaced, and five villages were buried in mud, but it will leave us with a better understanding of the birth, life and death of a volcano," Manga said.

Recent research in which Davies was involved showed that the dome of the mud volcano and the surrounding area are collapsing by up to three meters - nearly 10 feet - daily and could subside to depths of more than 140 meters (530 feet), having a significant environmental impact on the surrounding area for years to come.

Other authors of the report were petroleum engineer Rudi Rubiandini of the Institut Teknologi Bandung in Indonesia, Richard Swarbrick of Geopressure Technology Ltd. Science Labs in Durham, and Mark Tingay of the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide, Australia.


Erupting mud volcano

University of Aberdeen research supports the suggestion that the eruption of the Indonesian mud volcano Lusi, which has been erupting for more than 200 days, was caused by drilling for hydrocarbons.

The first scientific report reveals that the 2006eruption will most likely continue to erupt and emit several thousand cubic metres of mud a day for months, if not years to come. This will leave at least 10 km2 around the volcano vent uninhabitable for years and over 11,000 people permanently evacuated.

An Aberdeen researcher contributed to the study, which was led by Durham University, and is published in the February issue of US journal, GSA Today. It reveals that the eruption was almost certainly caused by the drilling of a nearby exploratory borehole looking for gas. The finding reinforces a United Nations report from July last year.

The mud volcano, known locally as 'Lusi', has destroyed infrastructure and erased four villages and 25 factories. Thirteen people have also died as a result of a rupture in a natural gas pipeline that lay underneath one of the holding dams built to retain the mud. It first erupted on 29 May, 2006 in the Porong subdistrict of Sidoarjo in Eastern Java, close to Indonesia's second city of Surabaya.

The team of mud volcano and pressure experts, who analysed subsurface and satellite images of the area for their study, propose that a local region around the central volcano vent will collapse to form a crater. In addition, an area of at least the dimensions of the flow (10km2) will probably sag over the next few months and years.

Dr Mads Huuse, a Lecturer in Geophysics, College of Physical Sciences, said: "Mud volcanoes are a common feature of the geological record around the world, and this is an excellent opportunity for scientists to observe the onset and continued eruption of a mud volcano - to understand how they are created and what happens when they erupt."

"Whilst the volcano is an interesting science project in itself, it is far more important that our research could impact positively on the livelihood of the 11,000 people who lost their homes to this mud volcano."

Mud volcano expert, Professor Richard Davies of Durham University's Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems (CeREES) said: "It is standard industry procedure that this kind of drilling requires the use of steel casing to support the borehole, to protect against the pressure of fluids such as water, oil or gas. In the case of Lusi a pressured limestone rock containing water (a water aquifer) was drilled while the lower part of the borehole was exposed and not protected by casing. As a result rocks fractured and a mix of mud and water worked its way to the surface. Our research brings us to the conclusion that the incident was most probably the result of drilling."

"Lusi is similar to a 'blow-out' (eruption of water at the surface) that happened offshore of Brunei in 1979. Just as is most probably the case with Lusi, the Brunei event was caused by drilling and it took an international oil company almost 30 years and 20 relief wells and monitoring before the eruption stopped."

Professor Davies continued: "Up to now scientists have known relatively little about mud volcanoes and Lusi has provided the first opportunity for experts to study one from birth onwards. Our work offers a clearer understanding of how they are created and what happens when they erupt. We hope that the new insights will prove useful to the oil and gas industry, which frequently encounters pressurised fluid in rock strata that could, if not controlled, force their way to the surface during exploration drilling. Ultimately we hope that what we learn about this incident can help insure it is less likely to happen again."

The team from Durham, Cardiff and Aberdeen Universities and GeoPressure Technology Ltd, an Ikon Science company, has essentially discounted the effect of an earthquake which occurred in the region two days prior to the mud volcano as the cause of the eruption. This is based on the time-lapse between the earthquake and the eruption, the low magnitude relative to distance of the epicentre, the fact that there were no other mud volcanoes in the region following the earthquake and through comparison with other geological examples.

Notes to Editors:

This news release is based on the findings published in the paper: Birth of a mud volcano: East Java (29 May 2006). Davies, R.J et al; GSA Today v. 17, no 2 (2007) 4-9 published by the Geological Society of America. Link to paper -

The team involved in the study comprised: Richard J. Davies, CeREES (Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems), Durham University, Richard E. Swarbrick, Geopressure Techonology Ltd, an Ikon Science company, Robert J. Evans, School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences, Cardiff University and Mads Huuse, Department of Geology and Petroleum Geology, University of Aberdeen.

Dr Mads Huuse, a Lecturer in Geophysics, College of Physical Sciences, is available for media interviews. Please contact him direct on: (01224) 273440 or email:

About mud volcanoes

Mud volcanoes are extrusions of a water and mud mix on the earth's surface that form cone-shaped volcanoes. These can be metres to kilometers wide and metres to hundreds of metres thick. They commonly occur in convergent tectonic settings, such as Azerbaijan, in front of deltas, such as the Mississippi and due to the gravitational collapse of continental margin sediments such as the Niger Delta.

About CeREES

CeREES aims to be a world leading research centre in petroleum and sustainable energy sources. Opened in 2006, it works closely with other research groups to create and transfer knowledge through innovative, cross-disciplinary research programmes & education.

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014 .

Issued on: Friday 2nd of February 2007

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