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article imageReport Confirms Drilling, Not Earthquake, Caused Java Mud Volcano

By Bob Ewing     Jun 9, 2008 in Environment
A two-year old mud volcano, which is still spewing huge volumes of mud, has displaced more than 30,000 people. It caused millions of dollars worth of damage was caused by the drilling of a gas exploration well.
A report produced by British, American and Indonesian and Australian states that a two-year old mud volcano which is still spewing huge volumes of mud, has displaced more than 30,000 people and caused millions of dollars worth of damage was caused by the drilling of a gas exploration well.
The well is operated by oil and gas company Lapindo Brantas, which has confirmed the published data is correct.
This report is the most scientific analysis that has been conducted to date and disproves the theory that an earthquake that happened two days before the mud volcano erupted in East Java, Indonesia, was potentially to blame.
The report is published this week in the academic journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. It outlines and analyses a detailed record of operational incidents on the drilling of a gas exploration well, Banjar-Panji-1.
Lead author Prof Richard Davies of Durham University, UK, published research in January 2007 which argued the drilling was most likely to blame for the eruption of the ‘Lusi’ mud volcano on May 29 2006.
The company drilling the well challenged Davies' theory and some experts argued the real cause was the Yogyakarta earthquake two days before the eruption, which had an epicentre 250km from the mud volcano.
Graduate student Maria Brumm and Prof Michael Manga of University of California, Berkeley undertook a systematic study to test the claims that the eruption was caused by this earthquake. They found that none of the ways earthquakes trigger eruptions could have played a role at Lusi.
Prof Michael Manga, of University of California, Berkeley, said: “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.”
The effect of the earthquake was minimal because the change in pressure underground due to the earthquake would have been tiny. Instead, scientists are “99 per cent” certain drilling operations were to blame.
Prof Davies, of Durham University’s Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems (CeREES) explained: “We show that the day before the mud volcano started there was a huge ‘kick’ in the well, which is an influx of fluid and gas into the well bore. We show that after the kick the pressure in the well went beyond a critical level.”
“This resulted in the leakage of the fluid from the well and the rock formations to the surface – a so called ‘underground blowout’. This fluid picked up mud during its assent and Lusi was born.
The chances of controlling this pressure would have been increased if there was more protective casing in the borehole.
Prof Davies added: “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.”
Prof Manga added: “While this is a most unfortunate disaster, it will leave us with a better understanding of the birth, life and death of a volcano.”
Lusi is still flowing at 100,000 cubic metres per day, enough to fill 53 Olympic swimming pools.
Recent research which Prof Davies was involved has shown that it is collapsing by up to three metres overnight and could subside to depths of more than 140 metres, having a significant environmental impact on the surrounding area for years to come.
More about Java, Volcano, Drilling
 
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