Plan to 'choke' Java mud volcano

Experts divided over whether project to block Indonesian mud flow will work.

    The mud flow has forced thousands from
    their homes and out of work [Reuters]

    Hundreds of homes have been submerged and several factories forced to close as the mud continues to erupt from the ground at a rate of about 126,000 cubic metres a day.
     
    The eruption began during gas drilling in the area by the Indonesian exploration company PT Lapindo Brantas.
     
    Many villagers in the area, backed up by a recent study by international scientists, say the eruption was directly caused by the drilling operation.
     
    Lapindo Brantas, though, has denied any responsibility, saying the eruption was caused by an earthquake.
     
    Friction
     

    Alternative efforts to stop or divert the
    mud flow have failed [GALLO/GETTY]

    Under the plan to choke the mudflow, chains of concrete balls 1.5 metres long will be dropped into the mouth of the eruption from a bridge built across the crater, the Nature report says.
     
    The balls themselves will be modified to increase friction with the mud as it passes through them, slowing the flow down, according to the plan.
     
    The project reportedly had a budget of $440,000 paid for by Lapindo Brantas.
     
    "We are aiming to get them to go 100 metres down, but the deeper the better," Umar Fauzi, an Indonesian geophysicist at the Bandung Institute of Technology, told Nature.
     
    He said the goal was to make the channel smaller, increasing friction with the mud to slow the rate of flow by up to three quarters.
     
    "It will make the mud tired. We're killing the mud softly," Bagus Nurhandoko, another geophysicist, was quoted as saying.
     
    Growing
     
    "It will make the mud tired. We're killing the mud softly"

    Bagus Nurhandoko, geophysicist

    To date alternative efforts to stem the flow by drilling relief wells or draining the mud into a nearby river have had little or no effect.
     
    As a result the mud has swamped an area of more than four square kilometres and is growing by the day.
     
    But a British-based geologist raised questions over the plan to choke the mudflow, telling Nature that reducing the size of the channel through which the mud passed was only likely to increase the pressure.
     
    "I would predict that the mud would probably exit at the other holes, or farther along," Richard Swarbrick of Geopressure Technology told the magazine.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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