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Indonesian pipeline blast kills 7, mud flow blamed

Written by: Staff

SIDOARJO, Indonesia, Nov 23 (Reuters) Indonesia blamed an uncontrolled mud flow today for a gas pipeline explosion that killed at least seven people and injured 12 on Java island.

The late yesterday blast -- which disrupted gas operations in the area -- occurred near the city of Surabaya in a part of the state-owned Pertamina East Java Gas Pipeline.

The incident happened in the area where hot mud has been gushing from near the Banjar Panji exploratory gas well since the end of May following a drilling accident, inundating several villages and causing an unfolding environmental disaster.

''The explosion was caused by land subsidence, which had weakened a dam. It broke the transmission pipe which then made the pressure rise to 400 psi (pounds per square inch) and the gas automatically shut down while the remaining gas ignited,'' Energy Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro told reporters.

He said the mud flow that began on May 29 made the soil sink, adding seven people were killed in the blast, 12 injured and four reported missing. He dismissed risks of another blast.

One of the bodies could not be identified because it was charred beyond recognition, Basuki Hadimulyono, the head of the government's mud task force, said.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters authorities ''would take steps needed to ensure that the situation would not deteriorate further''.

A Pertamina official said the blast's cause was not known.

''We don't know exactly why the gas pipe exploded but the effect of the blast stopped gas distribution for Surabaya and Gersik,'' said Sukadi, Pertamina's gas transmission chief for East Java distribution.

Another official said there had been a long-standing plan to move the pipeline from the mud area.

GAS FIELDS SHUT Officials said most of those killed by the accident, which occurred at around 7:30 p.m. were military and other government personnel involved in trying to secure the mud flow.

The well leaking mud is operated by Indonesia's Lapindo Brantas, a unit of PT Energi Mega Persada, partly owned by the Bakrie Group, which is controlled by the family of Indonesia's chief social welfare minister, Aburizal Bakrie.

The firm has denied the mud flow is directly linked to the drilling operation.

Energi has unveiled a deal to sell units that control Lapindo but the market watchdog has said a ban on the move still applies.

Bakrie has said he has not been involved in group activities since becoming at minister, and has endorsed a government view that Lapindo should be held responsible for the mud woes.

More than 10,000 people have so far been displaced by the mud, gushing at a rate of 50,000 cubic metres a day from the well.

Experts say the mud leak could have been triggered by a crack about 1,800 metres deep inside an exploratory well drilling operation near Surabaya.

A Pertamina official said it would not have to import more diesel oil after a request from the state power firm for the fuel for use at power stations to make up for the lost gas.

Australian oil and gas firm Santos Ltd. said today that the Maleo gas project, in which Santos has a 67.5 percent stake, shut production after the explosion.

Maleo gas, along with gas from other fields in the area, is delivered into the East Java pipeline.

The news sent Santos' shares down as much as 3.3 percent to a low of A.80, but they edged back to close at A.00.

Gas output at the Pagerungan field had also been shut after the blast, a unit of oil exploration firm, Energi, said.

Reuters AB GC1558

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