Pertamina Admits Responsibility for Balikpapan Bay Spill

Image courtesy WALHI

By The Maritime Executive 04-04-2018 04:43:00

After initially denying that its operations were involved in a deadly fuel spill and fire in Balikpapan Bay, Indonesia, oil company Pertamina has admitted that a leak in one of its subsea pipelines caused the release. The manager of the company's refinery in Balikpapan previously reported that the spill was heavy fuel oil, not Pertamina's crude.

The pipeline runs under the bay between Pertamina Refinery Unit 5 and a crude oil terminal in Lawe-lawe township. It broke under "extreme pressure," police spokesperson Kombes Ade Yaya told BBC Indonesia. The authorities are working together with the oil firm to determine the cause of the accident. 

Pertamina says that the pipeline, which rests at a depth of about 80 feet, is now under repair. In a press conference, refinery manager Togar MP said that for reasons unknown, the pipeline has moved from its original location by more than 350 feet. He said that Pertamina workers had shut down the line as soon as the leak was detected. 

On March 31, the spilled oil from the pipeline floated to the surface, where it spread and caught fire. The death toll from the blaze has risen to at least four people over the course of the week. On Monday, municipal secretary Sayid MN Fadli warned local residents to be careful not to smoke near the bay for fear of reigniting the floating oil. 

Pertamina maintains that the fire was not the result of an attempt to clean up the spill, as first reported by the Balikpapan Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD). The agency has apologized for its initial report, and said in a statement that it was incorrect. “We are sorry to report that the information that Pertamina ordered the burning of the oil spill is not true," BPBD wrote in a social media post.

Togar MP said that Pertamina is still calculating the quantity of crude oil released in the spill. Cleanup efforts are under way, and Balikpapan Port Authority said Wednesday that about 15,000 barrels of oil have been recovered so far. 

In a statement on Tuesday, Indonesian environmental group WALHI said that the spill left serious pollution stretching from Balikpapan City to North Penajam Paser Regency, the county to the southwest of the refinery. WALHI said that this was not the first spill in Balikpapan Bay, and it urged the Indonesian government to pursue a civil and criminal investigation.