An oil spill in Borneo that began over the past weekend has now spread across an area greater than the city of Paris and is heading out to the open ocean.
The spill, first reported on March 31, stems from a pipeline operated by state-owned oil firm Pertamina in the city of Balikpapan, in East Kalimantan province.
A report released April 4 by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry said the slick was spreading out from Balikpapan Bay and into the Strait of Makassar, covering some 130 square km’s.
Pertamina, which for days had denied responsibility for the disaster, finally admitted on April 4 that one of its sabotaged pipes used for transporting crude oil was the source of the slick.
The incident has been blamed for the deaths of five fishermen in a fire sparked by clean-up workers who were trying to clear the oil by burning it off the water’s surface.
Some 84 acres of mangrove forests are covered in oil, the environment ministry report said. The slick is also believed to have led to the death of an endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (orcaella brevirostris), a protected species under Indonesian law.
Thousands of people in Balikpapan, a city of 700,000, have also complained about health problems from the toxic slick.
Authorities declared a state of emergency in the city on April 3, and warned residents not to light cigarettes in the area. They also distributed gas masks to protect against the acrid fumes and smoke.
The East Kalimantan police and Pertamina are investigating the cause of the leak, after divers from the company found the pipe had moved some 328 feet from its initial position on the seabed.
Togar suggested “an external heavy force” had caused the damage to the 20-year-old pipe. Balikpapan Bay sees heavy traffic, particularly of coal barges coming through from the Borneo hinterland.
Nearly 18,300 gallons of oil was collected as of Tuesday evening, and several oil booms have been deployed to contain the spill, the environment ministry said.
Eco Watch / ABC Flash Point News 2019.