Sidoarjo Mudflow

Feb 22nd, 2007, in News, by

The mud in Sidoarjo is still flowing while some say nature is to blame.

The mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java, which started nine months ago and has swallowed five villages and left thousands homeless, shows no signs of stopping. A visiting geology expert from Kyoto University in Japan, James Mori, says he can’t be certain when the mud will stop gushing out. Something that would stop it, he said, was hydrostatic equilibrium, which sounds like something that doesn’t come along too often. If hydrostatic equilibrium did not occur Mori puts his faith in Indonesian ingenuity: tempo

Perhaps, some brilliant people in Indonesia will be able to [stop the flow].

James was in the country to attend an international geological workshop in Jakarta, February 20th-21st, in which the issue of the Lapindo mudflow disaster was the focus of discussions. The consensus view of the assembled experts, according to Professor Said D. Jenie, head of BPPT (Board for the Study and Application of Technology), was that the disaster is a natural phenomenon, an eruption of a mud volcano at a depth of between 1-2 km’s below the surface of the earth.

Sidoarjo Mudflow
Sidoarjo Mudflow.

The mud exploded as a result of tectonic activities and geological matters related to geohydrology and geothermal power, said Jenie. Given these facts Jenie said the government should declare the calamity a natural disaster and the handling of it should be done by the state.

Another expert, Dr Edy Sunardi, said the land at the site was unusually tectonically sensitive because sedimentation there takes place within a very short time so that there is no compactness and elasticity.

He also said there was a link in space and time between the Yogyakarta earthquake of 27th May and the Sidoarjo hot mud explosion two days later. bip

Another expert, Dr Yusuf Surachman Djajadihardja, ploughed in as well, saying the hot mud case is a rare natural phenomenon, a combination of tectonics and (oil) drilling. Although he did mention the question of Lapindo Brantas‘ oil drilling at the site he said no-one could know which was to blame, the drilling, or the tectonic sensitivity.

We cannot say who is responsible when two things take place at the same time.

Meanwhile, on the question of what to do with all the mud, Said D.Jenie said people were the most important thing to consider, and the mud should be diverted into the Porong river and the sea. If marine life were damaged due to this it was unfortunate, but it was the best solution. bip


February 23rd 2007.

British volcanologist Richard Davies, a mud volcano specialist and professor at Durham University, disputes the conclusion of the conference that the Sidoarjo mud disaster was caused by tectonic forces.

It’s unfortunate that the government concludes the mud disaster in Sidoarjo is a natural phenomenon.

He said drilling activities by Lapindo Brantas Inc. were the likeliest cause of the massive outpouring of mud.

The chance that the mud erupted because of the drilling activities is 90%. I feel quite strongly about this.

Davies said that the chance of the mud volcano being triggered by the earthquake in Yogyakarta was 1 or 2%, while the chance that both the drilling activities and the earthquake played a role was 8%.

Davies was not invited as a speaker but attended part of the BPPT conference.

He said any efforts to stop or curb the mudflow would be highly dangerous. He added that the system of mud walls built by the national mudflow response team to control the sludge also posed a threat. Hands off, he advised:

People should just leave the (mud volcano) alone. The embankment is dangerous. If it collapses, it could create an intense hazard.

The latest plan to drop chains of concrete balls inside the main geyser to slow down the spewing mud is an interesting experiment. But again it’s unlikely to work.


March 6th 2007.

The head of the Geologists Alliance of Indonesia (IAGI) of 1973-1975, Koesoemadinata, has protested the result of the international workshop on the Lapindo mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java.

In an email Koesoemadinata said that the resolution of the workshop was erroneous and did not show IAGI to be an independent body. He said that even while speakers were still discussing various possibilities that caused the mudflow the workshop was hastily concluded, with the statement that the cause of the mudflow was an earthquake. tempo

45 Comments on “Sidoarjo Mudflow”

  1. Andrew says:

    Although he did mention the question of Lapindo Brantas’ oil drilling at the site he said no-one could know which was to blame, the drilling, or the techtonic sensitivity.

    It’s not like the mud started to erupt on its own, it was triggered by Lapindo Brantas’ botched drilling. While it is safe to blame nature (mother nature won’t argue…), to some extent that company should be held accountable for their recklessness.

    Has anyone from Lapindo Brantas top management resigned?
    Oh, I forgot, it ain’t gonna happen…

  2. Bas says:

    I don’t see why Lapindo Brantas should be blamed for that, it’s not their fault if there is a lake of mud where they drilled. I am sure that if they knew what was going to happen they would never have drilled there.

  3. 1ndra says:

    It would be taken more than 30 years for mud to stop by itself, maybe the government could use it as a tourist object and a hot water springs to raise the income. 🙂

  4. Cukurungan says:

    Mud potentially can be new export stuff to Singapore for enlarging their land instead of “pasir riau”.

  5. Parvita says:

    As a geologist working for an oil company, I would agree to say that Lapindo cannot be 100% to be blamed for this disaster. It is a natural fenomena, which cannot be imaged by seismic. If it could be imaged, the geologists wouldn’t go ahead and drill such formation, would they? Moreover, there has not been any surroundings that indicates mud volcano in the area.

    The earthquake in Jogja might have triggered the fractures underground and has made those fractures as conduit for the mud to find its way out. Unfortunately, Lapindo placed its well at the wrong place and added another hole which burst the mud to the surface.

    This has been a never ending discussion within the geologist community and unfortunately there is no way to stop the mudflow. It is better to find a channel to let the mud flow to the sea. The first priority is to save the people around Porong Sidoardjo and manage the mudflow.

  6. Cukurungan says:

    It seemed to me the Indonesia engineers are no different with the dukun pelet, they only able to conclude something when things already occurred. The conclusion to divert the mud flow to sea already proposed from the beginning of the accident but only few Indonesia geologist dare to convince the decision makers concerning the matters. The outcome is a pretty clear everyone is on position waiting games at cost of misery Sidoardjo People. BpMigas shall convince to Government to declare “as national disaster” and every steps to be taken to ensure there’s a passage a way for Mud to flow gravityly to the ocean and wasteful effort to stop mud flow must be abandon because it seemed only becoming object of Rat to find a pieces.

    Dukun Engineer

  7. Shiva says:

    Lapindo Brantas should start putting money into the pockects of the people who are affected by this whole affair, not into the pockets of so called experts who are trying to cover up Lapindo Brantas’s incompetence.

  8. Mohammed Khafi says:


    Whilst I agree with you that the mud could not be imaged, that is no excuse for Lapindo Brantas. If you are drilling into an unknown situation you have to take all necessary precautions, until the geology is known well enough from exploration drilling it is encumbent on the company and their contractors to take all steps to protect themselves and others from unseen circumstances.

    Furthermore if Lapindo or their contractors had followed standard procedures for casing the well and ensuring structural and pressure integrity downhole, this present problem would have been unlikely to evolve into the situation it has become.

  9. Manuel says:

    Parvita, I am no geologist, I don’t know about the procedure of drilling and exploration but blaming it on the nature and claiming it as natural disaster is like saying ‘it wasn’t me…God is the one who is responsible”.

  10. 1ndra says:

    If the mud flowed to sea un-treat-ly, many sea creatures will suffer and the next impact is our people health by consuming them and our economy and the respect from abroad by making double nature kill.

  11. Cukurungan says:

    Oh my God when Indonesia professor from ITB, UI and UGM with BPPT are on Great Discussion how to find the best methods to treat the mud it could last within 20 years from now, once it is concluded all Java island already covered with mud.

  12. Tomaculum says:

    Perhaps, some brilliant people in Indonesia will be able to

    Problem: the brilliant people in Indonesia don’t have money, political power or influence or lobby, so they can’t say nothing and if they say something nobody will take notice of it.

    As a geologist working for an oil company, I would agree to say that Lapindo cannot be 100% to be blamed for this disaster.

    Not 100%-ly, but as far as I know, there were no geological study/exploration/analysis or things like that before the drilling was allowed. So 50%-ly and the rest 50% for the gov. body responsible for such permissions? In the so bad western country, the persons in charge will usually already be punished or take her/his hat.

    And like evrywhere, the “brilliant” people, scholar or scientist throw around their “brilliant” knowledge.

    And meanwhile: the residences have lost their home land. Their kampung halaman.
    But it is not so interesting, they are just unimportant people.

  13. Andrew says:

    Bas said:

    I don’t see why Lapindo Brantas should be blame for that, it’s not their fault if there is a lake of mood where thet drilled. I am sure that if they knew what was going to happen they would never have drilled there.

    The mud erupts from the hole made by Lapindo Brantas. Unless they can prove that the mud flood isn’t related to the drilling (which is next to impossible), they are still responsible for it.

    If you dig a hole in your backyard and rupture a PAM water pipe, you are responsible for the cost of fixing it — whether or not you knew the pipe was there is irrelevant.
    You are supposed to do your due diligence to make sure your action doesn’t damage others’ property. More responsibility is expected for bigger activity done by corporations.

  14. Parvita says:

    Kahfi and Manuel:
    Honestly, it is not as simple as that. When we are exploring for hydrocarbon, we do lots of interpretation. When I say that the high pressure zone cannot be imaged, it may be interpreted differently. There is no sign down under at 8000 feet that shouts out “I’m overpressured zone”, or “Hey, Here is the oil”, or else everybody will be investing in this business. Everything is done by interpretation, especially in exploration, there is a high interpretation factor in such activities. In oil companies, there is a procedure where safety is first and to drill a well, or run any sort of exploration activities, we have to go through all the regulations from MIGAS discussing the HSE (Health, Safety & Environment), amdal, and BPMIGAS for technical approval. If there is anybody to blame besides, Lapindo, BPMIGAS and MIGAS will also have to be blamed because they approved the well.

    The exploration target in East Java is what we call the Kujung Limestones. It is likely that the geologist has interpreted what they saw from the seismic as these hydrocarbon bearing reservoir (the Kujung) because it may give similar characteristic. I am not saying that Lapindo should not be blamed, because procedurally they also made a mistake, in which they did not put casing at the depth that they have planned before, for technical reason that can also be justified. Just like doctors, you can probably image things from the x-ray and interpret from the symptoms, but until you go through medication or surgery, you never really know.

    Moreover, from the surroundings, there has been no regional information regarding mud volcano in that area.

    It is very common to get surprises during exploration. At one time, I had interpreted a huge reservoir with gas bearing sands based on all kinds of models and technology – chances for sands are 90%, according to the surrounding geology, and the model fits well. It is a new concept and if it works, there will be lots of upsides. The only way to find out is to prove it by drilling it, take samples, no other way. When we drilled it, it was not sands, but volcanic ashes. This was a wildcat, so no analogy at the surroundings. But imagine if we didn’t drill it, and somebody else comes in and drills it and found big amount of gas, or oil.

    Another story. When the producing formation from South Sumatra was discovered in early 1900, the wellsite geologist could not get in touch with Jakarta, because it was Christmas, so he kept drilling deeper. And they discovered the Talang Akar formation, which is one of the producers in Northwest Java, Jambi and South Sumatra. This business is gambling, for both money and science.

    It also has been discussed about managing where the mud is and as usual the environmental activists question about the ecology. My say is, human beings are more important at this stage and we have to save people that is sufferring from this disaster first.

    Now they are trying to reduce the mud eruption by putting some sort of heavy metal object shaped like balls to stop the eruption. It costs a fortune and as it is nature, my personal opinion is that is not going to work. It’s science: there is pressure, there is a leak, you cover the leak, the pressure will go somewhere else. Unfortunately, the only thing is to let the mother nature to reach it’s equilibrium.

    Lets take an example: when you know that the water table level will rise up if you build buildings at North of Jakarta (Sunter, Kelapa Gading, etc), yet you still do it and when it rains there is no drainage for water to spill to the sea, that is a crime. But when you look at all the data possible, finished your homework and the interpretation is that there is something down under there (we are talking about thousands of meters here!) that can add up energy source for the country, and there has been no indication of possibility of disaster, what would you say?

    I hope this helps understand the situation. Geology has been so put aside in this country for lots of reason and unless there is disaster like Tsunami, earthquake or volcano eruption, nobody will listen to us because it is usually not a popular advise that we give. It is time for us to understand where we live: the earth!

  15. Cukurungan says:

    It is quite clear how theoretical science on actions why such stupid ideas like putting the metals ball to stopped mud flow be implemented. When the high pressure mud were original kept underneath the earth isolated by the seal rock and now the seal rock has been broken by Lapindo’s drilling activities. If the stupid ideas to stop the mud flow at the existing hole work, so the high pressure mud flow will easily go to another crack of the seal rock and find the way to other surface. It could be a new source of the hot mud flow in Komplek Jarak Surabaya, oh so nice we can play hot mud and hot girls there.

    Dukun Engineer

  16. Mohammed Khafi says:


    As long as there are unknowns, and in wildcat wells there are many, it is the responsibility of the exploration company to take all necessary steps to prevent problems from their exploration. Lapindo obviously failed in this matter and are therefore responsible.

    Overpressured zones are a hazard in any unexplored area and precautions must be in place to deal with them and their consequences, additionally, to not follow the casing programme originally planned, was criminal negligence on the part of Lapindo.

    The attempts to deal with this problem from the surface are doomed to failure, as has been said the high presure mud and gas will find an alternative path to the surface unless blocked at their origin, unfortunately that origin point would now appear to be totally disrupted and likely not a single point source any longer.

    Rather than wasting efforts on trying to stem the mudflow, Lapindo and the authorities should be looking at ways of reducing the surface impact as much as possible, and finding new land, homes and employment for those already displaced.


  17. Manuel says:

    Thanks for the explanation, and I am glad that we all seems to agree that the people is the most important thing and can I say that the accident could be classified as preventable.
    I have not made any research on any human & its activity accidents but for sure I notice that we can not depend on goverment regulation.

  18. Cukurungan says:

    The ideas for putting a concrete ball to control the mud flow might be not too bad in the laboratory or experimental sizes but when we are realy dealing with almost unknown a mother nature I think the risks are too great because if the dropped balls are not dancing around in the source as the expected to make “tire” the mud flow but choked the existing hole and the temporary halt pressure mud, it can even explode or cracking down all structure land of Sidoardjo.

    Let’s we see what happens, hopefully the idea will work and the mud will not flow anywhere because busy circling and dancing around the balls. But did the scientists who proposing this ideas have knowledge of all mud properties to make the ball dancing.

  19. Parvita says:

    Procedurally, Lapindo did not follow what has been planned in their well design, like you mentioned above. Even BPMigas was not informed on that change of well design. Their reason was that at any other adjacent wells in the area, it was alright to go ahead without casing before meeting the objectives. From that point of view, Lapindo really screwed up!

    It is impossible to stop the mudflow. The idea of the concrete ball, personally I am pessimistic. Considering the cost for one ball is USD 1.2M or so, it is much cheaper for Lapindo and the government to move the people outside the area and provide their accommodation.

  20. Cukurungan says:

    It is no secret that the regulator body of Migas activities in Indonesia is not much different with “standard Government Indonesia”, all their concern is how to make profit for their given authority. When they were going to check a drilling activities most their concern is not to ensure safety of the drilling activities and equipment but rather how to collect double “envelope” from oil company and the drilling contractors. With ongoing problems in Sidaorjo, hem hem, who knows might they smell a big fish by exploiting and manipulating a dream to stop mud flow. The dancing big ball could be ones of the big fish and let wait what other big fish will be. Whereas the fate of people of Sidaordjo even never exist in their mind.

    Dukun Engineer.

  21. Mohammed Khafi says:

    Very expensive cojones Parvita. 🙂

  22. Parvita says:

    Just another thought, at least the drilling was done based on science with lots of data, risk analysis, etc, and I, as a geologist, based on my knowledge on geoscience, still believe that this is a complex situation where nature plays a big role on the disaster. Lapindo just happen to be unlucky to be drilling just several days after the Yogyakarta earthquake, which is thought to be the trigger for lots of new fractures; could be the Banjar Panji-1 drilled through that new fracture, which was of course, too late to be included in the well proposal.

    Remember when one of the minister dug a big hole somewhere in west Java to find ‘harta karun’ based on paranormal? I find that really silly in this country; stuff using paranormal as a basis is more permitted than what has been based by science…(just another chat between geologists early morning during coffee).

  23. Mohammed Khafi says:


    Nature or Negligence?

    On the 30th of April the drilling contractor ran a casing string to 3580ft and then proceeded to drill toward the Kujung Formation, through overpressured mud (Kalibeng Formation) and interbedded sands and muds to a depth of 9297ft.

    Despite having a programme to run another casing string to 8500ft they did not do this.

    Leaving 5717 ft of exposed formation which contained amongst others ~1000 m of overpressured muds with some sand interbeds (the Upper Kalibeng Formation [Pleistocene age]), (c) ~1300 m of inter-bedded sands and muds, and finally (d) the well penetrated a limestone (presumed to be the Kujung Formation), which was also overpressured.

    Earthquake or Drilling?

    The primary reasons for not considering an earthquake to be the trigger or contributing factor are (a) no other mud volcano eruptions were reported in Java at the same time; (b) the earthquake preceded the eruption by two days; seismogenic liquefaction usually occurs during earthquake-induced shaking of sediment (e.g., Ambraseys, 1988); (c) there are no reports of a “kick” during the earthquake or immediately afterward; and (d) sand, rather than mud, is more conducive to liquefaction due to earthquake shaking because it is a non-cohesive, granular sediment. An earthquake could have generated new fractures and weakened the uncased section of the well, but it would be highly coincidental for an earthquake-induced fracture to form 200 m away from this well and provide the entire fracture network required for an eruption on the Earth’s surface.

    Full Report of Study Birth of a mud volcano: East Java, 29 May 2006

  24. Parvita says:


    There are several other papers as well that indicate that such big pressure of mud cannot only be triggerred by one single well. If you are interested in this, I might be able to find more scientific paper regarding LUSI. More info in, which you and others find different opinions about the mud volcano.

    I’d be interested to see the closure of this case also. Yesterday afternoon there was a meeting between the LUSI investigation group frou IAGI with the minister. I wonder what came out of it.

    Kahfi, by the way, thanks for the link to the paper. Reading the paper, there are still questions that I have though, keeping in mind that the area has been drilled and explored for several years now (and some producing fields).

    Lapindo, obviously, has to be responsible about their procedures, which was done in unsafe (and daring!) way. But still, I guess there has not been a closure between the scientists looking at the cause of the flow and how far the Banjar Panji-1 triggerred the disaster. Now, if the question is turned around, if BJP-1 was not drilled, with the earthquake that happened (you know earthquakes does not happen once, there are always after shock and following fractures that can take several days or weeks, or even months), will there still be mudflow? Up to now, nobody can image the distribution of the fractures after the earthquake.

    The other thing is, if BJP-1 was drilled following the procedure, based on what Dr. Davies’ paper, is there a guarantee that the mud blow out won’t happen? I still have lots of questions, it was a pitty that he didn’t attend the LUSI workshop at BPPT last week to give his opinion, which was also questioned by lots of geoscientists.

    So, personally, I keep my mind open on this matter.

    Anyways, if you are interested in this, you can also visit my friend’s blog at He has it in bahasa Indonesia though.

    Sorry, me again, Richard Davies WAS in the workshop. He did gave his statement although several people that I know attended the meeting said that he did not answer the question satisfactorily.

    His statement in Jakarta Post:

    “The chance that the mud erupted because of the drilling activities is 90 percent. I feel quite strongly about this…”… “the chance of the mud volcano being triggered by an earlier earthquake in Yogyakarta was 1 to 2 percent, while the chance that both drilling activities and the earthquake played a role was 8 percent”.

    Dunno where he got that statistical numbers, but this statement also shows that he believes that there is possibility that the earthquake is involved.

    For your reference, most wildcat drillings in Indonesia that discovered oil and/or gas have the chance of success around 8-15%. Just for comparison to Davies’ statistical numbers.

  25. Mohammed Khafi says:


    I don’t know if we will ever see a final definitive statement as to why this happened! Lapindo are obviously at fault because they didn’t follow procedures, but MIGAS are also responsible as they have a responsibility to oversee all work carried out by their joint venture partners. I feel sure that things are going on behind the scenes to ensure that, the real truth will never come out, neither Lapindo nor MIGAS will be held responsible, once again the people will bear the brunt of the cost of this disaster, either personally or through their taxes and government funds.


    Thanks for the other links!

  26. Ivan Rizki says:

    But Bakrie said “hey guys lets look at the bright side perhaps Indonesia will be the biggest mud exporter in the world beside sectarian violence and we can ship all the mud to the mideast countries, hence we earned foreign exchange from mud”.

  27. Who or what caused the mudflow is one thing, how to control the damage to people is another. Calculating ahead 1 year, & imagine the required changes to the infrastructure in the region. Besides: drilling relief wells may or may not be a good idea, how much study would have been done to that idea?

  28. Nikhil says:

    What impact does the mud volcano and flow in Indonesia have on human settlement and infrastructure in the affected areas?

  29. David Daniel Luthen says:

    In a situation like this, were thousands of human lives & survivals are on stake, we should find a sulution in the first place and not who is to blame for this disaster !
    To gain control of the situation is a primary matter now.
    For instance, if the mudflow is not to be stopped, we might try to reroute it. Since there is the ocean a couple of miles away, we have the option of creating a basin right into the ocean. That could be done by creating a system of pipes that would store the outflowed mud on the bottom of the ocean. Who knows if there will be a technic in the coming years available to regenerate the mud again, and make it useable for environmental constructions.
    A second possebility could be to drill deep holes into the ocean floor to store the mud and close it up. Anyhow.. there might be various possebilities.. but the ocean seems to be the only logic solution to put the mud out of our sight and an end to our misserry.
    If the mud is not to be stopped for centuries, there is no way to store the mud somewere on land. And as longer we wait for some action, more and more lives are on stake. DAILY !!

  30. Many of the issues above are interrelated, and to implement actions, nevertheless, apparently seem difficult due to money and technology. My observations when I was there on the 3rd of june: a large volume of mud is pumped into the Porong river, which are aimed to reduce the floodings elsewhere. Another observation compared with february’07 is that the cloud of steam and gas is becoming bigger. If you compare pictures of the past year, that’s in line with expectations. What this means is that the problem is becoming bigger, and will be more difficult to control. Another point is that apparently, many successful gas explorations are in work in the area, I was said that Lapindo has 29 working gas wells in the Porong district (true or not). It would be very important to know what is actually going on at the Mudwell at 1000 m depth and more. What are the changes in pressure and the dimensions of the vertical mudchannel, and the changes to it over time. More scientific equipment could be brought in for measurements. The mud content, which is mainly iron, could be analysed on a weekly basis, and attempts could be made to trace its origin, in order to find answers on geology related questions. I dont agree with the opinion to let the mudflow run its course. Many workers are doing a good job there to reduce the adverse impact by the mud disaster, as long as no better options are available, what else could be done?

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