Official estimates put the area of East Java covered by the foul black mud at over 200 hectares, with almost 8,000 people displaced by the accident.

Hundreds more have been made ill by the reeking sludge, left short of breath or vomiting.

The mud is contaminated with fluoride and sulphur.

The mud flow began on May 29 when, according to the owners of the well, the pipe was breached and a mix of mud and water began oozing to the surface via a number of vents.

At the time of publication, all attempts to stop the flow had met with failure and the mud had cut off the main road and rail links to the outlying city of Surabaya, as well as swamping homes, factories, farms and shops.

The well is operated by Indonesian firm Lapindo Brantas which has a 50% stake in the equipment.

Australian extraction company Santos also owns 18% of the well.

While speculation over causes of the damage is rife – at one point it was blamed on volcanic activity in the region – Santos says the investigation into the incident has yet to reach any conclusions.

“In addition, as the mud and water flows continue, clean up operations are unable to commence in earnest,” said a statement from the company.

“Accordingly, an accurate quantification of damage is not possible at this stage and any speculation is premature.”

“The flow has affected a significant area, including a number of nearby villages, businesses and roadways.

“Lapindo and local authorities are implementing programs to mitigate affects of the flow on the local community and the environment. Lapindo and well control specialists are implementing a plan to stop the flow from the vents.”

Santos went on to say that the incident is being looked into by Lapindo and the Government of Indonesia’s oil and gas regulator, BPMIGAS.

BPMIGAS was unavailable for comment.

Sam Bond

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