About the author: Sigit Karyadi Budiono was born and lives in Indonesia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics. He is currently working for KRuHA-Indonesia (People’s Coalition for the Right to Water), a Non-Governmental Organization that focuses on efforts promoting to uphold, protect and fulfill human rights to water in Indonesia. He conducts research and does advocacy work related to cases that have the potential to violate human right to water.

May 29th 2019, marks exactly 13 years since the Sidoarjo gas drilling disaster in Indonesia. This year, the companies responsible for the disaster have just received new permits to drill.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 Aerial view of the mud gushing out of a Lapindo Brantas Inc. gas exploration well in Sidoarjo, East Java. Credits: Greenpeace/Vinai Dithajohn

When you look at the site, you see vast expanse of land cover by mud. At one spot there is a hot mudflow that spurts rock, gas, and mud, like a geyser. The mud covers remnants of villages with homes and constructions abandoned by their inhabitants. You can also see the dry remains of rivers Porong and Alo, which have been massively degraded, with extraordinary siltation and pollution. The river can no longer be used for bathing, or as water source when the dry season starts; and fish are often seen dead. Local farmers are directly impacted as crop failures are common and paddy rice fields dry up

13 years ago, a gas drilling failure caused a toxic mudflow to erupt, devastating homes and livelihoods. While the toxic mud is still flowing, between 11’000 and 50’000 people have been displaced and are still waiting for compensation and support. The people are overwhelmed with fear and anger that permits have been granted to the same company, Lapindo Brantas, to drill again close to the disaster area. They fiercely reject more drilling in Sidoarjo.

13 years on people are still suffering and awaiting compensation.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006. Villages submerged by drilling induced mud volcano in Sidoarjo. Credits: Greenpeace/Vinai Dithajohn

Many of the survivors of the disasters feel they have never been taken seriously by the government. Their basic rights have been ignored for years by the government, which does not acknowledge the impacts it has had on their livelihoods, their environment, their health.

The government and the company responsible for the mudflow have only paid a small compensation to a very few number of the victims.

The area has now be turned into a sad tourist attraction, the “Lapindo Disaster Tourism”.

Mrs Harwati, who is one of the people displaced, now has to work as a motorcycle taxi driver for tourists to send her children to school. She explains that it is a very risky drive but the costs of the disaster, lack of jobs, and lack of support from the government or company responsible leave her no choice.  

The local environment and the health of local people is badly impacted because of the pollution of land, water, and air, from the mudflow. It is causing illnesses and diseases especially upper respiratory tract diseases, as well as increased rates of cancer and itching. However, the government is not taking care of the impacts and Harwati explains that “[They] don’t get covered by health care programs (KIS Card) from the government.”

While the mud is still flowing, Lapindo Brantas, the company responsible for the gas drilling failure, has gotten permission by the government to drill again close to the disaster area.

The Lapindo case shows that the government prioritises big capital and investors over the environment and the interests of its people. The new permits that have been given out shows  the extent to which big corporation in Indonesia are able to influence and pressure the government.

People in Indonesia suffer, while banks and companies in Europe profit.

Though the disaster and drilling is located in Indonesia, much of the finance for this project came from Europe. The banks funding the company responsible for the disaster are Swiss (Credit Suisse and UBS), Dutch (Fortis Group, TMF Group, and Vreewijk Management), German (Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft), French (Natixis France) and British (Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank).

This case of the Lapindo tragedy is not alone in Indonesia.

Indonesian people have seen and experienced how the oil and gas companies, but also minerals and metal mining companies, destruct the environment and violate human rights.

The Acehnese people remember how Exxonmobil was allegedly involved in funding and facilitating acts of violence, kidnapping, torture, and even murder while carrying out its operations.

The people of Papua will always remember how British Petroleum (BP) allegedly increased tensions and triggered acts of violence, murder, rape and other heavily human rights violations. The list of infamous cases keeps growing, with companies such as Freeport destroying the environment of Papua, or international banks like HSBC funding coal in Kalimantan.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 Aerial view of the mud gushing out of a Lapindo Brantas Inc. gas exploration well in Sidoarjo, East Java. Credit: Greenpeace/Vinai Dithajohn

Not only this, but fossil gas is promoted as a climate solution

Gas poses a huge threat to communities who live around gas extraction and gas infrastructure sites (like pipelines and fossil gas terminals). A wave of new gas projects around the world are being pushed as gas is labelled a ‘transition fuel,’ and cleaner than oil and coal. Beyond the impacts on people, gas also fuels climate change. Gas cooks the planet in a different, no better, way to other fossil fuels. It emits less CO2, but releases a huge amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

We demand justice for the people of Sidoarjo, and the people fighting these dangerous industries all over the world. 13 years on, it is time to acknowledge the destruction the gas drilling has had on people and to hold responsible the corporations involved. We cannot be giving new permits out to fossil fuels and corporations destroying people’s lives.

People take action in West Java on the Sidoarjo anniversary

On the morning of the Sidoarjo anniversary (29th May) people took action in front of the East Java Governor office and demanded the governor :

1. Guarantee social and health care to all the victims of Sidoarjo

2. Reject a plan to “delete” the villages that were impacted

3. Reject Lapindo’s new drilling permits

4. Recover the environmental damage caused by Lapindo activities