PARIS (AFP) ― Scientists on Sunday sparked a fresh debate over what triggered Indonesia’s Lusi mud volcano, still spewing truckloads of slime more than seven years after it leaped catastrophically into life.
Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the study strengthens the argument by gas company PT Lapindo Brantas that the disaster was caused by a distant earthquake, not by its drilling crew as some experts contend.
Lusi, located in the Sidoarjo district of the island of Java, erupted on May 29, 2006, in the middle of a rice field.
It has destroyed 13 villages, dozens of factories and shops and a highway, prompting the government to build dikes 10 meters high to try to contain its spread. Nearly 50,000 people were displaced.
The new research, by a team led by Stephen Miller at the University of Bonn in Germany, suggests the eruption was caused by the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that occurred two days earlier near Yogyakarta.
“We conclude that the Lusi mud eruption was a natural occurrence,” they write.
Even though the two events were some 250 kilometers apart, the rock formation at Sidoarjo has a shape and structure that acted rather like a lens, amplifying and focusing the wave of seismic energy from Yogyakarta, according to their computer model.
The jolt of energy would have liquefied the source of the mud, causing it to be injected into a fault connected with a deep hydrothermal system. This super-heated blowout feeds the eruption today, goes their theory.
Asked to comment on the study, British geologist Richard Davies pointed to the daily drilling reports from the Lapindo Brantas team at Sidoarjo.
It showed their gas exploration was going awry, Davies said.
On the day of the eruption, the drillers acknowledged that they were having problems in stabilizing pressure in the hole, a routine procedure that uses injected fluids, as they sought to withdrew their drill bit, he said.
That, and the lack of protective casing around the hole, “was like pulling the cork out of a champagne bottle,” causing a “kick” of high-pressure mud to blow from the hole, Davies, a professor at Durham University, told AFP in a phone interview.
“When the Yogyakarta earthquake occurred, nothing happened in the well. The pressure in the well was already many orders of magnitude bigger than the pressure changes due to the Yogyakarta earthquake,” Davies said.