Cablegate: East Java: Mud Managers Informally Request Usg Assistance

DE RUEHJA #1772/01 1790020
P 280020Z JUN 07





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: East Java: Mud Managers Informally Request USG Assistance

REF: JAKARTA 1038 (notal)

JAKARTA 00001772 001.2 OF 003

1. This is an action request. See paragraph 11.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY. Following up on A/S Christopher Hill's recent
inspection of the mudflow disaster, ConGen Surabaya met with
Sidoarjo Mud Disaster Management Board (BPLS) leadership, who
described their inability to formulate and implement a workable plan
to stop the mudflow or manage the disaster. BPLS Director of
Operations Sofian Hadi directly requested USG technical assistance,
identifying five priority areas where additional outside expertise
is needed to identify experts and information to help them analyze
and manage the mudflow disaster. The BPLS identified the most
pressing need as tectonic geologists and geophysicists to assess the
possibility of a massive earthquake in the greater Surabaya region
of East Java due to building tectonic pressure along the Watukosek
fault line. BPLS internal models show the remaining area of Porong
flooded with mud over the next 18 months, if conditions remain
constant. To date, all efforts to stop or manipulate the mudflow
have failed, prompting the request for fresh ideas on handling the
disaster. END SUMMARY

Mudflow Disaster Background

3. (SBU) The Mudflow disaster started as a gas well blowout 15 miles
south of Surabaya, caused by errors of PT. Lapindo Brantas
(Lapindo), a gas exploration company controlled by the Coordinating
Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie and family. Over the
past 12 months, Lapindo made several ineffective efforts to stop the
mudflow. Mismanagement, changing geological conditions and lack of
funding stalled and eventually closed the best hopes of stopping the
mudflow - relief wells - which could continue another 20-30 years.
Lapindo has built an extensive earthen dam system to capture the 55
million cubic meters of mud already out of the well. Efforts to move
the mud away from the densely populated and economically sensitive
area failed due to the mud's dense viscosity. Mud flows at a steady
150,000 cubic meters per day. The mud covers 4 square miles at an
average depth of 15 feet, destroying over 12,000 homes and
businesses, and is projected to grow to 6 square miles by the end of
2007. Around 40-60,000 residents require permanent resettlement and
20-25,000 jobs have been lost. The main transportation route for
the southern half of East Java to the Surabaya Port is permanently
closed. National road and rail service adjacent to the mud are
frequently disrupted, causing major transportation delays and
threatening closure of hundreds of factories. Water lines supplying
20% of Surabaya's water and fiber-optic telecom lines serving East
Java, Bali and two eastern provinces run under the mud and are under
threat from new water and methane geysers stemming from the

BPLS Concerns Prompt Informal Request for Assistance
--------------------------------------------- -------

4. (SBU) In a series of meetings with ConGen Surabaya over the last
few weeks, BPLS Vice Chairman Hardi Prasetyo and BPLS Director of
Operations Sofian Hadi described their inability to form a
realistic, workable and effective plan for stopping or slowing the
Lapindo mudflow and noted their increasing concerns over the
environmental impact of dumping muddy water into the Madura Sea.
They complained that there were too few competent geophysicists,
mining and slurry engineers and environmental scientists and
engineers to create and implement a workable mud management plan.
They also lamented their lack of recent geological data which is
hampering their ability to analyze the potential effectiveness of
the various plans that have already been proposed. BPLS is seeking
experts in these fields who might be willing to help analyze the
data they do have and advise on what further information is needed
to formulate a realistic response.

5. (SBU) In a June 15 meeting with Sofian Hadi and PT. Energi Mega
Persada (Note: Energi Mega Persada is Lapindo's managing partner)
S.V.P. Bambang Istadi, the BPLS again raised the issue of technical
assistance and specifically asked whether the USG, whether through
the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) or other USG or academic experts,
could assist them in analyzing the mudflow disaster. They said that
they would put these requests in writing if needed. BPLS identified
the following problems/areas where specific technical expertise is

JAKARTA 00001772 002.2 OF 003

a) Earthquake analysis/prediction - Geologists with an expertise in
tectonic geology.

There is evidence of increasing tectonic pressures in the fault line
running through the mud, as evidenced by a recent spike in the
mudflow rate and several new mud geysers popping up in areas outside
of the dam structures. They are concerned that East Java could
experience a massive, earthquake along the Watukosek fault line that
runs from Mt. Arjuna, north through Lapindo, between Sidoarjo and
Surabaya, through the Madura Strait and up in to Madura, devastating
a densely populated area. (N.B. Apparently there is a geologist
named Dan Hillman from Cal Tech working with the Indonesian
Institute of Science (LIPI), studying earthquakes in Sumatra whom
they noted "predicted the Aceh quake.")

b) Modeling/Managing Pressuring Water Flow - Geophysicists with
expertise in micro-seismic and micro-gravity measurement, tools and

The pressurized salt water reservoir (essentially an old pocket of
trapped ocean) which is the source of the mudflow does not behave
like an oil reservoir. There is no experience with dealing with
this phenomenon and none of their oil reservoir assumptions is
working to deal with the mudflow.

c) Mud Volcanoes - Experts on the origin, geology and management of
mud volcanoes.

There are 7-8 mud volcanoes along the same fault line where the
Lapindo disaster is located. (The others are all small and do not
begin to approach the scope of the Lapindo site.) There are no
domestic experts on mud volcano behavior.

d) Mud Content/Mechanics - Geochemists to help with analyzing and
modeling the mud to predict its future composition and behavior.

They are having difficulty analyzing the composition of the mud and
are unable to predict its rapidly changing nature.

e) Geological Data - Experts with access to any existing geological
satellite data and/or guidance on accessing improved data.

They have limited and/or poor quality geological data to base their
modeling of the mudflow and future damage estimates.

6. (SBU) The problems described have a direct and immediate
relevance to the health and safety of the remaining 50-60,000
residents of Porong and to the greater Surabaya area. Istadi
presented two computer models; one projecting the surface behavior
of the mud over the next 36 months and the other forecasting
subsidence of the ground underneath the mud. These models have not
been made public and are considered highly sensitive. BPLS predicts
that the Porong area in its entirety may be buried in mud within the
next 18-24 months, assuming a constant flow rate of 111,000 cubic
meters per day and that the mud will be breach the earth dams,
overflow the Porong River banks and flow in an unstoppable manner
directly into the river. The subsidence model was more startling,
projecting the land in a two mile radius around Porong subsiding up
to 1,000 feet and everything around the disaster getting sucked into
a pit of hot mud. However, the models are based on old and
incomplete geological data. The models will be used as a tool to
help prepare BPLS evacuation plans for Porong.

7. (SBU) At the end of the meeting, Istadi stated, "Sofian Hadi is
appointed by the President and speaks for the BPLS." We take this
to mean that the assistance request was authorized to be made by
BPLS leadership or at least broached with us in an informal manner
to test the waters. Eventually the BPLS hopes that with enough
people working on the mud issue, a solution will present itself and
further devastation could be avoided.

Summary of Efforts to Stop or Control the Mudflow
--------------------------------------------- ----

8. (SBU) Over the past year, a number of strategies to stop the
mudflow have been attempted and many others in various stages of
planning. After the original gas well blowout, Lapindo tried a
snubbing unit and a sidetracking well both of which failed. Two

JAKARTA 00001772 003.2 OF 003

relief wells were started using predominantly U.S. well control
contractors. The relief well plan eventually failed because lack of
funding stopped the wells from being put into operation. Lapindo
dismissed the contractors and closed down the relief well project,
stating publicly the project had failed for technical reasons. U.S.
relief well contractors disputed the claim, stating that the relief
wells would work if completed. The 396 concrete balls dropped in to
the mouth of the volcano with the intention of plugging it were
unsuccessful, as expected by most experts. In April 2007, U.S.
relief well engineers were brought back to assess the likelihood of
success of restarting the relief well project. According to
contacts, political pressure from Bakrie put the relief wells on the
back burner, due to the estimated cost of $100 - 300 million each.

9. (SBU) The newest idea under consideration is a double steel
walled coffer dam system. Tempo magazine reported that in a fit of
frustration at a cabinet meeting over the lack of progress on
stopping the mud, SBY ordered implementation of the Japanese
designed system. Our BPLS contacts confirm they met with the
designers of the system but are highly skeptical of the coffer dam,
assessing a low likelihood of success and great risk of mud being
forced through cracks in the earth and irreparably damaging
sensitive infrastructure adjacent to the mud pond such as
telecommunication, gas and water lines, the Porong Road and the
national rail line. Vice President Kalla publicly rejected a
Japanese offer to finance the coffer dam project for the GOI stating
that Lapindo was financially responsible for all mud management

10. (SBU) The inability to stop or slow the mudflow has prompted
creation of a number of mud control schemes. The BPLS and the
National Mud Disaster Management Team (Timnas) before it have
devised pipelines, channels, pump systems, detention ponds,
irrigation channels, screw pumps and mud thinning systems to try to
move the mud out of the earthen dam system away from densely
populated Porong and the nearby critical infrastructure. The nature
of the mud has defeated all efforts to manipulate it. Containing
high levels of salt and sulphur, the mud is highly corrosive
destroying pump systems. When water is added to thin the 225 degree
mud, it cools the mud, which then solidifies and will not flow. The
BPLS has recently begun pumping muddy water separated from the
cooling mud solids into the Porong River. This is not considered a
long term solution, as only 15-20% of the mud volume separates as

11. (SBU) ACTION REQUEST: From our discussions, it is clear that
the most immediate need is for impartial experts who can advise the
BPLS. Post requests that the Department to reach out to the
U.S.G.S. to determine what resources/interest it has, if any, to
assist the BPLS in assessing its existing data and determining what
additional data may be needed. In addition, BPLS would be
interested in any recommendations regarding contact with leading
public or private experts in the five priority areas, with tectonic
geologists and geophysicists clearly the most urgent need.


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