Company claims earthquake caused devastating volcanic eruption


June 11, MSNBC

JAKARTA, Indonesia - International scientists say they are almost certain a mud volcano that displaced tens of thousands of villagers in central Indonesia was caused by faulty drilling of a gas exploration well — not an earthquake as claimed by the company.

Debate over the eruption has flared since a seemingly endless torrent of hot, black sludge started oozing from a gaping hole near the country's second-largest city of Surabaya on May 29, 2006.

Well operator Lapindo Brantas, owned by the family of Indonesia's richest man, Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, says it was triggered by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that occurred 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the site two days earlier.

"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," Richard Davies, a geologist at Durham University in Britain, said Tuesday.

He was the lead author of a study published this week in the academic journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters that said his team was 99 percent sure that drilling pressures caused a fluid leakage that led to an "underground blowout."

Lapindo noticed too late that an influx of water or gas entered the well after the drill was removed for the night, Davies said, adding "it is quite clear" the critical pressure was "more than the hole could withstand."

Michael Manga, a University of California researcher who authored the part of the report on the quake's impact, said while earthquakes can trigger eruptions, this one "was simply too small and too far away."

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photo: A picture taken from a helicopter shows the mud volcano in Sidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia, on May 28 (Fully Handoko / EPA)