The severe oil spill in the Balikpapan Bay (East Kalimantan) could lead to sanctions for Indonesia's state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina. Arcandra Tahar, Deputy Minister of Indonesia's Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, said his ministry is joining forces with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to investigate the oil spill case. Five fishermen were killed by toxic smoke, while it is feared that severe damage has been done to marine live and the ecosystem in the area.
While the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry will evaluate the safety standards and response of Pertamina to the emergency situation, the Environment and Forestry Ministry will focus on the level and impact of environmental pollution in the area.
However, there is the risk of conflict of interest as Pertamina is the country's biggest fully state-owned company, while Arcandra Tahar - besides being Deputy Minister of the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry - is also Vice President Commissioner of Pertamina.
According to the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the total oil spill area has reached 12,987.2 hectares (roughly the same size of West Jakarta), including 34 hectares of mangrove swamps. It is estimated that 60 kilometers of beach has been affected by the disaster. After the oil spill occurred on 31 March 2018 the local authorities of Balikpapan declared a 15-day state of emergency. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 local residents complained about nausea and breathing problems due to toxic chemicals.
On Saturday 31 March an oil pipe (owned and operated by Pertamina) that transfers crude oil from the Lawe-Lawe Terminal located in North Penajam Paser to Pertamina's refinery in Balikpapan was damaged at the depth of 20-25 meters under sea-level. The damage was done by a ship that anchored in the bay amid bad weather conditions. However, according to an Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry official, the vessel was not allowed to anchor in that part of the bay.
When oil emerged at the surface of the sea Pertamina initially thought it was the vessel that leaked oil. However, Wednesday (04/04) it was reported that an oil pipe had been hit and was the source of the oil spill. In local media it is reported that the vessel was a coal carrier that was on its way to Malaysia.
Any damage to the local ecosystem also jeopardizes the livelihoods of local fishermen. Meanwhile, Pertamina said fuel production at the Balikpapan refinery may decline slightly as the alternate oil pipe is slightly thinner than the one that has been damaged.