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New report says Indonesia mud disaster man-made

JAKARTA, June 10 AAP – Indonesia’s devastating mud volcano is a man-made disaster caused by exploratory drilling for gas, a new report has found.

Researchers say the finding disproves the theory, long-argued by the exploration well’s operator, that an earthquake 250km away was to blame.

The mud volcano burst through the earth two years ago during deep drilling at the exploratory gas well, linked to Indonesia’s richest man and also part-owned by Australian company Santos.

It has spewed millions of cubic metres of hot, stinking sludge in heavily populated East Java over the past two years.

“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,” Professor Richard Davies, of Durham University in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

The mud now covers seven square kilometres, and has displaced 30,000 people and swallowed 11 villages, thousands of homes, businesses, paddy fields and mosques. It continues to spurt 100,000 cubic metres of mud each day.

The study – described as the most detailed scientific analysis to date – was published in the academic journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters this week.

It follows a study by Durham University last year which found the mud eruption was “almost certainly man-made”, and caused by the exploratory drilling.

But the well’s operator Lapindo – linked to the powerful family of Indonesia’s Public Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie – has long argued it was a natural disaster caused by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Yogyakarta two days earlier, a claim backed by a Jakarta court ruling last year.

In the latest study, University of California researchers tested claims that the eruption was caused by the Yogyakarta tremor and found it did not play a role.

“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,” said the university’s Professor Michael Manga.

The report found the effect of the earthquake was minimal, with only a “tiny” resulting change to underground pressure. It said scientists were 99 per cent certain drilling operations were to blame.

The research comes just weeks after another study by Durham University, which found the mud volcano was in danger of collapsing on itself. It warned the bleak, sodden landscape is sinking – and could subside by as much as 146 metres over the coming years.

Comment was being sought from Lapindo.

© AAP News Wire

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