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Cablegate: East Java: Mudflow Update -- Usgs Expert Visit to Mudflow

VZCZCXRO1049
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHJS #0041/01 2711236
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 281236Z SEP 07
FM AMCONSUL SURABAYA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0058
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0007
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0006
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHJS/AMCONSUL SURABAYA 0060

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SURABAYA 000041

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MTS AND ES/ESC/IEC
DEPT FOR DS/IP/EAP
DOE FOR CUTLER/PI-32 AND NAKANO/PI-42
COMMERCE FOR USDOC 4430

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EINV EPET ELAB ENRG PGOV ASEC ID
SUBJECT: EAST JAVA: MUDFLOW UPDATE -- USGS EXPERT VISIT TO MUDFLOW
SITE

REF: SURABAYA 37 AND PREVIOUS

SURABAYA 00000041 001.2 OF 002


THIS MESSAGE IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE PROTECT
ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On September 20-22, USGS Geologist Thomas
Casadevall and Surabaya Pol/Econ Officer toured the site of the
Sidoarjo mud flow and met with Indonesian geologists familiar
with the disaster. The site tour and subsequent meeting showed
fundamental differences in focus between geologists associated
with Lapindo Corportion and Dr. Surono, an influential
government geologist, regarding the cause of the disaster.
However, experts were unanimous regarding the current situation:
the mud flow will likely be unstoppable for many years to come
and resources will be best spent to permanently relocate
affected residents. This USGS visit highlighted conflicting
interests and political sensitivities plaguing disaster
mitigation efforts on site. END SUMMARY.

An Overburdened River
--------------------------------

2. (SBU) During his three-day visit to Sidoarjo and the
surrounding area to view the impact of the mud flow on the
region, USGS geologist Tom Casadevall toured the site of the
mudflow, speaking with engineers employed by BPLS (the Sidoarajo
Mudflow Disaster Management Board) about their efforts to
mitigate the mudflow's impact. As noted reftels, the Porong
River plays a key role in all current mitigation plans. Experts
and residents have expressed concern about the river's ability
to accommodate increased runoff during the rainy season in light
of the ever-growing volume of mud entering the river. BPLS
plans to install additional dredging equipment to push the mud
sediment farther downstream.

3. (SBU) Casadevall and Pol/Econ Officer followed the course of
the mud discharge along the Porong River for several miles
towards the sea. Illustrating the mud's density, approximately
two miles downstream, the tracks of a skiff used for
transporting people and cargo across the river were clearly
visible on the mud's surface. While the water's depth above the
mud allowed for the skiff to cross, the river's flow had so far
had no impact on the course of the tracks' straight line across
the river. While the current dry conditions are responsible for
the river's weak flow rate, the mud's tendency to harden in
water and the anticipated water volumes during the rainy season
raise serious concerns about extensive flooding. The Porong
river's role in flood control for Surabaya means any flooding
would likely effect not only the surrounding river but also
Indonesia's second largest city.

Political Faultlines, Priorities Mirrored At Site
--------------------------------------------- --------------------

4. (SBU) While BPLS is charged with managing the area
surrounding the bubbling lagoon that is the source of the mud,
the source itself and its dyke is the domain of PT Energy Mega
Persada EMP (Lapindo's holding company). EMP/Lapindo's mud
control operations go on around the clock. Questions of
financing abound and little money appears to be going toward mud
management and control. BPLS Director of Operations Soffian
Hadi told Pol/Econ Officer that he has still not been paid since
taking his position four months ago. Dr. Surono, Head of the
Center Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation in Bandung
and the President's point man on recent earthquake and volcano
disasters, reported that his Center had experienced a drastic
budget cut this year.

Cause and Impact
--------------------------

5. (SBU) On 21 September, Casadevall and Pol/Econ Officer met
with Dr Surono and experts employed by Lapindo at the BPLS
offices in Surabaya. Dr. Surono, Agus Guntoro, from the Geology
Faculty and Trisakti University, and Bamban Istadi, VP for
Technical Services, PT Energy Mesa Persada (a Lapindo holding
company), had flown from Jakarta especially to brief Casadevall.
Despite repeated assurances from Surono and Cadadevall that
their interest was in efforts to mitigate the effects of the
mud, Istadi and Guntoro made lengthy power-point presentations
explaining why the seismic system was ultimately responsible for
the mud flow. Indeed Guntoro demanded that Casadevall declare

SURABAYA 00000041 002.2 OF 002


his opinion regarding the causes of the disaster. Casadevall
demurred and reiterated that the purpose of his trip was to
focus on mitigation of the disaster not the causes.

6. (SBU) Information about the chemical content of the mud was
conspicuously absent and clearly sensitive. Casadevall asked if
mineralogy testing had been done several times only to be put
off by vague answers. Istadi and Guntoro finally admitted that
tests had been done, but that Lapindo was keeping the results
confidential.. Istadi allowed Casadevall a brief look at his

SIPDIS
laptop computer which showed an Indonesian language list of the
elements found in the mud. Seeing pyrite on the list, Casadevall
voiced his concern that pyrite would produce damaging acidic
runoff similar to that seen in coal mining operations. Acidic
runoff would endanger the network of fishponds and rice fields
downstream, compounding the environmental and economic impact of
the mud. Casadevall took a mud sample provided by BPLS to the
U.S. for further analysis.

Lapindo's Resettlement Plan
-----------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Istadi offered Casadevall a glimpse of Lapindo's plan
to resettle victims of the mud flow, but cautioned that
premature release of the plans could have an impact on real
estate prices in the Sidoardjo area. The plan involves
Lapindo's purchase of land parcels straddling the toll road
roughly halfway between Porong and Surabaya. Architectural
drawings of "Satellite City -- New Sidoardjo" showed what
Istadi said was "mixed use" housing, to include a golf course,
high-rise buildings, and retail space in addition to three
different home models. Those displaced by the mudflow would be
offered the cheapest model home, he said, while the other homes
would be offered for sale to the general public. Istadi
suggested that Lapindo had no intention of losing money on the
real estate transaction, commenting "we can't just give all of
this money to these people." Istadi added that the full plan
was to have been rolled out during the President's June visit to
Sidoarjo, but had been delayed because the plan was not yet
"mature."

Requests made of USGS
------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Tasked by President Yudhoyono to assess mitigation
plans, Dr. Surono said he had reviewed the numerous proposals
for relief wells and other options for shutting down the
mudflow. He expressed concern to Casadevall that the costs
associated with trying to stop the mudflow are prohibitively
expensive with no guarantee of success or promise of prevention.
Casadevall suggested that a LIDAR study of the area would
provide a precise topography of the area surrounding the site
and the necessary foundation upon which to build any mitigation
plan. A LIDAR study would allow experts to project the likely
path of future flows from the current mud source, if it is
allowed to flow naturally.

9. (SBU) Guntoro and Istadi made the following specific
requests for USGS assistance:

-- An expert on hydraulic properties of the mud.
-- An expert to help BPLS collect and coordinate all previous
reports on the mud.
-- A drilling expert (This was a request from Istadi, EPM)
-- An expert on mud volcanoes, particularly fossil mud volcano
systems (a request from Agus Guntoro, Trisakti)

They said that experts from Russia, Italy and other nations had
offered assistance, but thus far only in the form of shared
research on mud volcanoes.
MCCLELLAND

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