Sat, Feb 24, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Official defends plan to stem flow from mud volcano

AP , SURABAYA, INDONESIA

Indonesian workers prepare concrete balls yesterday to be used in an attempt to stem a massive mudflow at a gas exploration site in Sidoarjo, East Java. An Indonesian official hit back at critics of a plan to control the gushing mud volcano by dropping the balls into its crater, saying something had to be done to stop a nine-month-long eruption that has displaced 11,000 people.

PHOTO: AP

An Indonesian official hit back at critics of a plan to control a gushing mud volcano by dropping concrete balls into its crater, saying something has to be done to stop a nine-month-long eruption that has displaced 11,000 people.

A team of geologists and engineers planned to lower the first of hundreds of balls into the gaping hole at a gas exploration site on Java island later yesterday.

They hope the plan, believed to have never been tried before, will reduce the amount of mud flowing from the geyser by up to 70 percent.

The mud is now surging out at a rate of about a million oil drums a day.

The plan follows an abandoned attempt to block the flow by pouring in concrete.

Critics have said they doubt the new attempt will work and may be dangerous or cause the mud to flow out from different points.

"Those experts can say what they want, but we have to do something," said Rudi Novrianto, a spokesman for a government task force handling the disaster.

"There is no time to debate and sit around," Novrianto said.

He said laboratory tests by geologists at Indonesia's most respected university had indicated the plan would work.

The team plans to drop five of the chained cement balls, each weighing up to 250kg, and monitor the effect before gradually releasing more balls into the hole, Novrianto said.

Mud volcanos are fairly common along volatile tectonic belts such as the one running below Indonesia and in areas where there are rich oil and natural gas deposits.

Opinions differ about the cause of the mud flow on Java, but experts agree that the flow could last for years.

Some scientists suggest the rupture was triggered by faulty gas exploration techniques by operator PT Lapindo Brantas.

Other research suggests it is the result of increased seismic activity in the area, with the mud flow starting two days after a major earthquake.

Lapindo is a subsidiary of PT Energy Mega Persada, controlled by the family of Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie.

He has said repeatedly the geyser was sparked by the earthquake and that his company bears no financial liability.

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