Mining Mistake May Have Set Off Massive Mud Eruption

By Andrew Moseman | June 9, 2008 4:27 pm

A gurgling mud volcanoAs Lusi, the world’s fastest-growing mud volcano, now stands on the brink of collapsing upon itself, the geologists studying this bizarre dirt-spewing pit now say they are almost certain that a well drilled for natural gas production caused it to form.

Lusi first erupted mud and toxic gas in May 2006, killing 13 people and soaking a dozen east Indonesian villages. Lapindo Brantas, the mining company, said an earthquake two days prior provided the jolt that kick-started the volcano. But Michael Manga and his grad student Maria Brumm of the University of California, Berkley investigated that claim, and they found that was highly unlikely the earthquake was the cause. The quake was centered more than 150 miles away from the mud volcano, the researchers say, and none of the ways earthquakes are triggered could explain how it set off Lusi.

But a team of scientists led by Richard Davies of Durham University in the U.K. say that drilling operations ignited the mud monster. When miners dug 3,000 meters into the earth, they hit an aquifer buried deep underneath the mudstone. This released the pressure built up inside the aquifer, the scientists say, which provided the raw power to blow mud all over the place. Since its initial eruption, Lusi has gushed forth 50 to 60 swimming pools worth of mud and muck every day.

As of last week a court in Indonesia said this was a natural occurrence, one of many intriguing turns in the Lusi story. Indonesian welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie is also the country’s richest man, and his family owns the mining company. Then there are the just plain strange elements: Last year, desperate to stop the mud flow but with nothing better to try, the Indonesian government dropped 2,000 concrete balls into the volcano’s vent, Davies says. Nothing happened.

The mud is currently restrained behind retaining walls, and will begin to recede now that the two-year mud eruption is coming to an end. But Lusi’s collapse will leave a huge crater, Davies says, and its center could fall almost 150 meters in the coming decade. This could further fracture the surrounding area, Davies says, even shift the course of rivers. At least the afternoon mud showers should stop.

MORE ABOUT: natural disasters
  • http://JohnBerbatis John Berbatis

    Eco collapse-seismic, Pres. Clinton responds.

    College Students Address Global Issues‏
    From: The Clinton Foundation (
    You may not know this sender.Mark as safe|Mark as unsafe
    Sent: Thursday, 20 March 2008 1:26:46 AM
    To: John Berbatis (

    Estimating Exponentials
    by Bob Powell, 5/29/07
    Printer page
    Email article

    An article, Australian Researcher warns about Mass Human Extinction from Global Environmental Collapse by John Berbatis made me think, “Gee. Maybe things are worse than even I thought.”
    He writes: “Judging by the current extremes of global weather conditions and the recent increase in worldwide seismic activity, I believe humanity will face extinction before the end of 2008.”
    2008 !!! Holy Cow. And here I’ve been worried about the coming economic collapse at about that time.
    Alarmist? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s next year. Maybe he’s wrong and it’s at least 10 or 20 years away. Whew! That would be a relief.
    But really. Exponential increases do quickly get out of hand and humans are really, really terrible at recognizing how quickly. How terrible? This graph shows how bad we are at it based on experiments with real human beings.

    Estimating Exponential Growth. From The Logic of Failure, Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations by Dietrich Dorner, 1996, that I used in my Systems Thinking and Problem Solving class at Colorado Tech (in the slides for the second class).
    Link to Systems Thinking and Problem Solving class.
    Beyond this, we’re terrible at understanding the dynamics of stocks and flows as described at Global Warming: An Inconvenient-to-Understand Truth and Sterman’s paper to which there is a link, also based on experiments with human beings, students from MIT and Harvard.
    So that’s two reasons why the seriousness of climate change is so easy to obfuscate, which I view as a crime of planetary proportions considering the number of people who will die unless the human race takes immediate action.

    In the past ten years there has been an exponential melting of the ice sheets and a noticeable disintegration of the ice shelves, owing to ‘global warming’.
    The loss of mass from the underlying Tectonics Plates causes them to ascend (iso-static rebound), and this results in an increase in the intensification and frequency of global seismological activity. The seismic data of the past ten years confirm this conjecture. Furthermore, the ice shelves impede the flow of glaciers and ice sheets into to the oceans; and when the ‘polar regions’ are subjected to unprecedented seismic upheavals, these events will then cause the ice sheets and glaciers to be dislodged en masse into the ocean!
    This occurrence will then instantly destabilize the earth’s surface weight distribution (isostasy), and so precipitate a ‘crust displacement’ (Mag. 12). i.e., axis change! The previous subterranean extraction of fossil fuels will greatly exacerbate this impending Apocalypse.
    Currently, the excessive amount of carbon and methane gasses in the atmosphere is causing catastrophic weather conditions, globally – and this situation will rapidly deteriorate… ‘a climate runaway!’
    The global environmental and geo-political situations are now coalescing into a ‘critical mass’; so I believe humanity can expect a catastrophe of worldwide proportions within this year!
    In 1998, I submitted my dissertation on the above matter to various eminent institutions and individuals, to which I received positive responses from PM’s Tony Blair, Helen Clark (NZ) & Lee Kwain Yew (Singapore) as well as the UN’s – Dr Mary Robinson, Hon. Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG of the High Court of Australia, Premier P. Beattie (Queensland, Au) and Chief Justices of Canada, Norway, Taiwan, Mexico and Netherlands etc,.
    Reality rules this universe! … not unproductive discussion & debate?

    Quake hunters.
    Wiens’s team installs a seismic sensor on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet in 2001.
    Credit: Douglas Wiens and Patrick Shore
    Something’s Shaking in Antarctica
    By Douglas Fox
    ScienceNOW Daily News
    4 June 2008
    Scientists have discovered massive, slow-motion “ice quakes” trembling twice a day through the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, an Alaska-sized swath of Antarctica. Detective work has traced the source of the shaking to the Whillans Ice Stream, a glacier 100 kilometers across and 1 kilometer thick, which flows from the ice sheet’s interior.
    It may seem strange that magnitude-7 quakes went unnoticed for so long–a temblor of similar size leveled entire towns and killed at least 15,000 in Turkey in 1999–but people standing on the Whillans Ice Stream never notice the shaking. “The reason that it doesn’t rattle the whole continent is that it’s a very slow event,” says Sridhar Anandakrishnan, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University in State College, who made the discovery along with Douglas Wiens, a seismologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Normal earthquakes release their energy over a few seconds, but the Whillans’s shaking unfolds over 20 minutes.
    Wiens first noticed the ice quakes 3 years ago as he analyzed data from 43 seismic sensors across Antarctica. Hoping for faint signals that would help him pinpoint previously unknown faults, he was instead greeted by booming vibrations from the same spot in West Antarctica. Wiens then looked at seismic data collected in 2004, the same year that Anandakrishnan had deployed 16 GPS sensors on the Whillans Ice Stream that tracked the ice’s movement every 10 seconds. Most glaciers edge forward continuously, but the Whillans was already known to behave bizarrely: It sits still most of the time, then surges more than a half-meter forward twice per day as ocean tides lift and lower a slab of floating ice that extends from the end of the glacier onto the Ross Sea, just off the coast of Antarctica. By combining the GPS and seismic data, the researchers saw that the ice quakes and glacial surges synchronized perfectly in time, suggesting that the shaking was caused by the ice grinding over a rough spot in the rock below, they report 5 June in Nature.
    Finding the causes of ice quakes–which also occur in Greenland–could lead to better understanding glacial movement and improved models of how glaciers will respond to climate change, says Robert Bindschadler, a glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who first reported the twice-daily surges of the Whillans Ice Stream in 2003. “What has come from these discoveries is a realization that glaciers have other modes of behavior than we have thought of previously,” says Göran Ekström, a seismologist with Columbia University.

    Subject: RE: Global environment collapse -how+why(seismic)
    Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2007 13:32:39 +0000

    Dear John,
    Thank you kindly for your email and for the information. Yes, there is a reasonable amount of credible scientific literature on the topic of linkages between (i) weather and climate and (ii) tectonic events. The linkages are even stronger when we consider disaster events, not just the environmental changes. It is good to hear about your contribution to this body of research and I hope that you find opportunities to continue such endeavours.
    I would be cautious about promoting endorsements of science from lawyers, such as the politicians and judges whom you mentioned, because their values and training are not always the most appropriate for judging scientific merit. Some are able to straddle more than one field and make important contributions in several areas, but that does not apply to them all. Mary Robinson left UNHCR in 2002.
    Reality rules this universe! … not unproductive discussion & debate?
    As is clear from my work, including on the disaster diplomacy website, I agree with this sentiment.

    From: “Ackerley, Beth” To: “John Berbatis” Subject: Tsunami SMS Warnings Date: Mon, 2 Apr 2007 11:50:53 +1000 Mr John Berbatis Email address: Dear Mr Berbatis The Premier, Paul Lennon MHA, has asked me to acknowledge and thank you for your email of 29 March 2007 in relation to Tsunami SMS warning. Yours sincerely Beth Ackerley Executive Officer Premier’s Office Telephone: 6233 6068 Fax: 6234 1572 Email: From : thepremier Sent : Tuesday, 13 March 2007 2:00:16 PM To : Subject : AA07/06566 – Global warming From : thepremier Sent : Tuesday, 13 March 2007 2:00:16 PM To : Subject : AA07/06566 – Global warming Dear Mr Berbatis The Premier has received your recent email concerning global warming. Your views have been noted and Mr Iemma the appreciates reasons which prompted you to write to him on this occasion. You may be sure that your comments will receive close consideration. Yours sincerely Jocelyn Mouawad Assistant Private Secretary From: WA-Government Sent: Tuesday, 10 April 2007 4:13:08 PM To : “john berbatis” Subject : RE: SMS alerts for tsunami warning. | | | Drafts | Inbox Dear Mr Berbatis We refer to your recent email regarding SMS alerts for tsunami warnings. Your suggestion has been noted and forwarded to the Hon John Kobelke, Minister for Police and Emergency Services for consideration. Regards WA Govt >>> “john berbatis” 5/04/07 9:30 am >>> Dear Premier Alan Carpenter, In last month, there has been a heightened level of global seismological activity, especially in the Pacific basin ‘ring of fire’; and it appears to be substantially escalating. I have recommended by email – to all State Premiers, PM Howard and the Chief Minister Clare Martin, that they consider the immediate establishing of a SMS alert for a tsunami threat, so as to facilitate the most effective means of the warning the public. Kind regards, John Berbatis 4/21 Cornelian St Scarborough 6019 Perth WA April 5th, 2007 Tel: 0422621382 NB. Premier Peter Beattie sent me a positive response by letter, on March 26th 2007 – pertaining to above matter.
    FiFrom : Sent : Wednesday, 25 April 2007 8:14:56 AM To : Subject : | | | Drafts | Inbox We have received your e-mail.
    Best Regard,
    E-mail Team
    Cabinet Secretariate Government of Japan

    Dear Editor, Syllogisms that I submitted in 1998, which were recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – Dr Mary Robinson and the Hon. Justice Michael D. Kirby AC CMG of the High Court of Australia. Time must exist before matter can be created, and only an animate entity can conceive of space-time. Time must be a stabilized and uniform condition before matter can form, thus Monotheism is a Truth. The Universe consists of space-time; which is functionally active and growing but remains stable. These combined characteristics are indicative of an animate entity only, thus Pantheism is a fact. Consequently, all mortals’ behaviour and attitudes become conspicuous by our Creator. Reality is the dream of a Universal sentient being; sensations of all mortals are merely light flashes within elongated fractal crystals, flowing in a white mist which is time itself; ensconced within a beige coloured and velvet textured Pearl, that is, a holographic Universe. If all electrical particles were in different time zones – matter would not form, thus time is a controlled electromagnetic radiation (energy) E = mc2. To be perfect – one must know the past, present and future, there is only one, the one that created Time. John Berbatis Perth, Australia March 26th, 2007 Tel: +61 0422621382 Email: ——————————————————————————–

    Global Warming, Volcanic Eruptions
    A Warmer World Could Be A More Explosive One
    By Joshua Hill Friday, April 4, 2008

    Much of the focus on global warming is always directed towards the obvious; food, water levels, animals. What makes the whole subject even more interesting though is the unexpected consequences of a warming planet. And if new research is to be believed, global warming may have an impact on volcanic eruptions.
    According to Carolina Pagli of the University of Leeds, UK, and Freysteinn Sigmundsson of the University of Iceland, Vatnajökull – the largest ice cap in Iceland – is disappearing at a rate of 5 cubic kilometers per year. Together, the two have calculated the effects that this will have on the crust and magma underneath.
    Naturally, when ice disappears, the added weight it forced upon the crust below it disappears as well. As a result, according to Pagli and Sigmundsson, this is increasing the rate at which the rocks under the ice sheet melt in to magma. The melt to magma rate was found to be 0.014 km3/yr, which equated to a century average of 1.4 cubic kilometres produced since 1890; a 10% increase on the background rate.
    (I spoke to Carolina Pagli via email, and she said that “One should be careful with the wording, because it’s the ice melting that causes decompression at depth and thus the mantle melting.” So the stats above refer to the rate of magma production, not ice melting.)
    Iceland is home to several active volcanoes that exist underneath the ice, including Gjàlp, home of the last big eruption in 1996, and 58 years earlier in 1938. But according to Pagli and Sigmundsson the extra magma produced over the past century and more could reduce that time down to a gap of 30 years between each eruption.
    Vatnajökull is somewhat unique in terms of its location, and is not necessarily an indicator for the rest of the world. Vatnajökull sits atop a boundary between tectonic plates, and as a result allows the release in pressure to have a much greater effect deep within the mantle.
    But the thinning of ice over volcanic areas will have another effect, one which is more widespread. As the amount of weight on top of the crust diminishes – or at the very least changes – subsequent geological stresses will also change and increase the chance of eruptions. “Under the ice’s weight, the crust bends and as you melt the ice the crust will bounce up again,” explains Bill McGuire of University College London in the UK, who was not involved in the study.
    Pagli points to Antarctica’s Mount Erebus, the Aleutian Islands and other Alaskan volcanoes as locations which will be at risk of similar increased volcanic activity. She adds that the shifting stresses could even cause eruptions in unexpected places. “We think that during the Gjàlp eruption, magma reached the surface at an unusual location, mid-way between two volcanoes, because of these stress changes,” says Pagli.
    McGuire, who was speaking to New Scientist regarding the new research, added that “It’s not just unloading the crust that triggers volcanic activity but loading as well.” He and his team believe that rising sea-levels – also caused by melting ice caps – will increase volcanic activity. “We are going to see a massive increase in volcanic activity globally,” he told New Scientist. “If we look back at previous warm periods that is what happened.”

    Posted 04/4 at 07:54 AM Email (Permalink)

    This piece is in Category: Natural Science


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

See More

Collapse bottom bar