Residents collect oil that washed up on the beach near Cemarajaya in Karawang, West Java, on Wednesday. (Antara Photo/M Ibnu Chazar)

Environmentalists Call Pertamina Out on Karawang Oil Spill, Prepare Lawsuit


JULY 30, 2019

Jakarta. State energy company Pertamina has come under fire for allegedly failing to take proper action to clean up a large oil spill off the coast of Karawang in West Java. 

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said an estimated 3,000 barrels of oil have been seeping into the ocean each day since July 12, when a well-kick occurred at a freshly drilled well about 2 kilometers offshore. The oil spill had already spread over an area of more than 45 square kilometers by July 18, resulting in fishermen and shrimp farmers suffering major economic losses. Some of them are now preparing to file a lawsuit against Pertamina.


"Our records from the ESA Sentinel 1 satellite can be accessed publicly. We are using a foreign-owned satellite and more data will become available on Aug. 2," said Dwi Sawung, manager for energy and urban affairs at Walhi.

The environmental group claims that Pertamina has so far made no attempts to clean up the spill, which is spreading fast due to strong winds in the area.

"The last report we received from people was that it had reached Untung Island in the Thousand Islands," Sawung said, referring to a group of islands off the coast of Jakarta.

"Pertamina has not told the public about the management progress and the spread of the oil, which spilled from their drilling location," he added.

Sawung said the oil giant's emergency procedures are inadequate, especially on informing the worst affected parties. The result is that people do not know how to deal with the situation, or how severe the impact is.

Suspicious Lack of Detail

Merah Johansyah, coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), said besides failing to properly inform the public, Pertamina has also not released any satellite photos to show the spread of the oil spill.

"That is key information. In the Balikpapan Bay and Lapindo cases, there were [satellite photos]," he said, referring to a previous disaster in East Kalimantan, involving Pertamina, and another in East Java, involving companies owned by the politically connected Bakrie Group. 

"But in this case, there is nothing, even after two weeks. Something might be kept hidden and it could be dangerous," Merah said.

Fajriyah Usman, Pertamina's vice president of corporate communications, has meanwhile denied allegations that the company was keeping information from the public.

"We issue press releases every day; we provide information on our progress; we have held press conferences twice. The media can also contact me, and I'm often interviewed on television," she said. 

Pertamina has deployed five Giant Octopus oil skimmers and a static boom in the area, saying that this was an effective solution for now.

"We estimate that the well can be closed in about eight weeks, hopefully, sooner," Fajriyah said.

She confirmed that the oil had spread to nine villages in Karawang and two in Bekasi, but said Pertamina was still investigating whether it had reached the Thousand Islands.

"We are observing and taking samples to make sure the oil is from the same incident," Fajriyah said.

However, Walhi argues that prevailing weather conditions are negating these efforts.

"Amid the current extreme weather, Pertamina's static oil boom can't hold back the oil spill," said Tubagus Achmad Sholeh, director of Walhi's Jakarta branch.

Ready to Sue

Walhi said it would assist the affected residents in filing a lawsuit against Pertamina.

"The affected people plan to sue Pertamina. To us, suing is their right and it can be done; we will support them," Meiki W. Pandeong, Walhi's director for West Java, said in Jakarta on Monday.

Meiki noted that about 300 people in four villages in Cikarang, mainly employed in coastal tourism, have so far been affected.

"We are still counting the people's losses, so we have accurate data," he said.

Meiki said the spill has also damaged fish and shrimp harvests in ponds around Karawang and Bekasi, and resulted in fishermen in West Java and Jakarta suffering losses.