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Indonesia - Sidoarjo, East-Java - A modern-time Pompeii

I felt the need to spend some words on a tragic, probably man-made disaster

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After a full day of visiting my daughter’s boarding house, friends and the university, I got up early. My daughter and her local friend Stephanie had invited me to join them on a popular day trip for Surabayans: a nature/safari park in the mountains, a few hours south of the city.

On the way down there we passed through a town where something tragic happened in May 2006. It hardly made the news in Western media, but the story made an impression on me, so I wish to write a few words about it.

I saw the first signs of this when we drove near a town called Sidoarjo. Everything became more and more muddy in color. Along the left side of the road there was a long and high levee, like the dikes that we know in the Netherlands. However, here everything was brown, grey, dirty and muddy. People stood on the levee at several places, staring at something. We passed some desolate, dirty villages, a few shops, and there were many political slogans. The typical Indonesian smiles were not to be seen on people’s faces here. The whole place gave a feeling of sadness and apathy all around.

Steph explained: On that day in May 2006, a big oil company was drilling for gas in what used to be a productive agricultural area. Something went terribly wrong. Ever since that day villages have been destroyed completely, slowly but unstoppable. The lives of the people have changed in a dramatic and sad way. In fact, the biggest mud volcano in the world was created here. The word “created” seems appropriate, at least according to the local people and many scientists.

A huge so-called blowout happened, when the oil company was doing deep test-drilling. Suddenly, hot volcanic mud and toxic volcanic gases started to erupt. This phenomenon spread at more and more places. In a few days the mud eruption reached its peak with 180,000 cubic meters (!) per day, and this continued for years. Any idea how much that is? These 180,000 cubic meters equal 2,700 forty feet sea containers of hot and toxic mud; every day!

Most people here are convinced that it was caused by this human activity, and not by natural earth tremors, as the oil company tries to tell people.
The mud soon took several villages, more than 16 of them. Destroying homes, crops, farm land, rice paddies, fish ponds, ecosystem, infrastructure and nature. Eight villages were completely lost at the very beginning. More than 11,000 people had to leave their homes and land. The entire evacuated area of many square miles had to be surrounded by levies to contain the continuously rising mud.

Five years later, in 2011, the quantity of the daily erupted mud had declined to about 10,000 cubic meters per day. That is still a lot, and the mud flow continues. Also, explosive toxic gases continue to come out every now and then. The geological structure of the area has cracked and weakened. Nobody really knows what is exactly developing, just under the surface. The whole area has become a caldera. Some scientists believe the underlying bedrock may eventually completely collapse under the growing weight of the mud.

There are also risks for major roads (the road from Surabaya to Probolinggo for example) and for railroads, which need continuous extra monitoring.

I did not take any pictures. However, I would like to make an exception to my own rule, by posting a picture from Wikipedia here with the appropriate credits to the owner/creator of the photo.

I hope the website allows me, because I believe this picture is more illustrative than all my words, to describe what has happened to what once was fertile, rich, green and lush agricultural land, on which more than 40,000 people made their living.


Credits for this picture: By Crisco 1492 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30736065

The oil company still maintains that it happened because tremors of from a distant earthquake. Many scientists and the general public are convinced that irresponsible drilling caused this to happen. No wonder that many controversies and political disputes have arisen ever since.

Wikipedia gives an extensive overview, also about the controversies: please click here

This website tells about the status per end of 2016:
click here

And to get a visual impression, see this website:

It is up to everyone whom to believe about the cause and the aftermath. I just did not want to leave this unmentioned. We were underway to a nice location, and I will write about that in my next entry, but passing through here made me silent for a little while.

Posted by westwind57 17:47 Archived in Indonesia Tagged villages indonesia java roadtrip east_java disaster caldera surabaya mud_volcano geological sidoarjo mud_flow oil_company man_made

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How awful, Jacques. Thank you for making folks aware of this disaster (myself included). Ironically, I just finished reading "Last Wild Men of Borneo" yesterday and learned about the devastation of the Borneo rainforest + Bruno Manser. Learning a lot, but none of it good...


by vances

Hi Vance, thanks for the comment. I agree, I would be happy to visit Borneo for what is still there, at the same time it will be with mixed feelings about the devastation of habitat.

by westwind57

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