Thousands of Acehnese people whose livelihoods rely on illegal mining were shocked by an explosion at an oil well in Peureulak, East Aceh, on Wednesday, that claimed the lives of 22 people and badly injured 37 others.
“It is difficult to stop illegal crude oil mining, as it provides a livelihood for many people,” the head of the Aceh Energy and Mineral Resources Agency, Akmal Husein, told the Jakarta Post on Thursday.
Jamaluddin, secretary of Pasar Putih village, said illegal oil mining had improved the economic situation of numerous villagers, as it had allowed them to earn a good living.
“A drum of crude oil can be sold for Rp 860,000 (US$62). One person can get six drums every day. Of course, such a fortune encourages many people to take advantage of the opportunity,” he said, adding that the presence of illegal oil wells had attracted people from other villages to also mine at Pasar Putih village. Most of them were unemployed.
The head of Bukit Pala village, Rasyidin, said that illegal mining had become the main livelihood of the village, with around 50 illegal oil wells managed by local residents in the area.
“Almost everyone here works as illegal miners and it has been that way for a very long time,” he said.
Bukit Pala, Pertamina and Seunebok are villages near Pasir Putih that also have oil resources underground. Generally, people mine on their private land.
“Lately, there has been an increase in wells in the area,” Rasyidin said, adding that he was sure the community would object if oil mining was prohibited because of worker safety concerns.
Data and information expert of the Aceh Disaster and Mitigation Agency (BPBD) Henny Nurmayani said the majority of the villagers killed in the tragedy had died from severe burns as they did not use proper protection equipment.
After burning for 26 hours, a joint search and rescue team was finally able to extinguish the fire in a 250-meter deep well.
“The fire has been put out but the gas emission is still strong,” Henny said, adding that the BPBD had evacuated 198 people from 55 families to a safer location.
Head of the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) Sapto Aji Prabowo said there was a threat of environmental pollution from the oil spill.
“Since the location [of the well] is in the yard of a house, the threat to biodiversity is relatively low,” he said.
The police said they would take action against all illegal mining operators in East Aceh.
“We will take firm action against the financiers of the illegal oil mines and also the miners, so it will not happen again in the future,” East Aceh Police precinct deputy chief Comr. Apriadi said.
He added that there were 16 wells abandoned by state oil company Pertamina in the area.
Aceh Oil and Gas Management Agency (BPMA) head Marzuki Daham said fires at illegal oil wells were not a new issue for Pasir Putih residents. Another fire also occurred last year in the same location, although it was smaller than this year’s.
“It’s impossible that the government didn’t know about it. The regional administration […] surely knew about it. This has happened not only in Aceh, but also in East Java, North Sumatra, South Sumatra, ” he said.
Marzuki claimed there were currently more than 500 illegal oil wells across East Aceh.
He called on the government to establish a regulation that could give the community the opportunity to drill in a proper and safe way.
“A regulation is needed so that when we or law enforcement officials want to investigate the wells we have guidelines to audit them,” he said.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) called on the government to immediately stop illegal crude oil drilling activities in Aceh.
“Since 2012, we have called on the government to close down illegal exploration activities because they are dangerous and have polluted the environment. However, the mining activities have continued to take place,” WALHI Aceh director M. Nur said.
Source: Hotli Simanjuntak, Apriadi Gunawan / The Jakarta Post
27 April 2018