Indonesia braces for more environmental damage as oil slick widens

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Indonesia has launched a massive clean-up operation off the coast of Balikpapan, the provincial capital of East Kalimantan province, where an oil slick from a ruptured undersea pipeline has sprawled to 20,000 hectares, contaminating mangrove forests and marine life, Arab News reports.

The initial oil slick was detected on March 31. “It will take months to recover from the environmental damage,” a marine campaigner from Greenpeace Indonesia, Arifsyah Nasution, told Arab News.

Environmental activists in Balikpapan have teamed up to collect evidence and assess the environmental damage, he said.

The city’s administration has declared a state of emergency as locals’ livelihoods suffer. The spill has killed at least one Irrawaddy dolphin, a rare and protected species.

State-owned Oil Company Pertamina told Arab News that the spill was caused by one of its undersea pipelines being “dragged more than 100 meters from its location.” Nasution said the crisis could have been minimized if Pertamina had responded more quickly.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry said the likely culprit is a Panama-flagged coal ship that dropped its anchor in Balikpapan Bay, dragging one of the pipelines and causing it to rupture.

The ministry’s oil and gas director general, Djoko Siswanto, said ships are not permitted to drop anchors in the part of the bay where the pipelines are installed.

Environmental and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has dispatched ministry officials to Balikpapan to spearhead the clean-up effort and assess the adverse impact on the bay’s ecosystem and biodiversity. Pertamina has deployed 15 cleaning vessels.

Bakar said the ministry team will measure the length of the coastline impacted by the spill. They found that it has so far polluted 34 hectares of mangrove wetlands in Kariangau village, and 6,000 mangrove trees in another village.