Massive fire erupts at Balongan Refinery in Indonesia
Fire fighters in Indonesia are working to put out a massive fire that has broken out at one of the largest oil refineries in the country. The fire broke out at the Balongan Refinery situated in Indramayu in West Java, Indonesia and run by state oil firm Pertamina, at 00h45 local time on Monday, 29 March 2021. At least five people were injured and around 950 residents have been evacuated to safety. A handful of people have been reported missing. Residents from a nearby village have been evacuated to several different camps with the relief efforts further complicated by COVID-19 measures. Pertamina said the cause of the fire was unknown but that it started during heavy rain and lightning. The fire was focused on the refinery tanks, with no damage to the processing plant, said Pertamina Chief Executive Officer Nicke Widyawati.
According to the regional disaster management agency, five people were being treated in hospital for serious burns with another 15 with minor burns.
In a press conference later on Monday, the firm said the fire had not damaged the refinery's processing capabilities and that operations could hopefully return to normal in the next five days.
The oil firm also said it was shutting down the refinery and conducting "oil flow control" to prevent any further spread.
The Balongan refinery, which is located approximately 200km (125 miles) east of the capital Jakarta and measures at least 340 hectares, can process 125 000 barrels per day with its output geared toward clean fuels such as gasoline. The complex has 72 tanks with total capacity of 1,35 million kilolitres, Widyawati said.
Nationwide gasoline stockpiles stood at 10,5 million barrels, enough to cover 27 to 28 days of consumption, Mulyono, the company’s director for logistics, supply chain and infrastructure, said. “There are 8.8 million barrels of diesel or 20 days’ worth of consumption and 3,2 million barrels of jet fuel stored”, he added.
TV footage and videos on social media showed the fire still raging on Monday morning with a plume of smoke rising high above the refinery, located in West Java province. "We smelled a strong fuel scent first, so strong that my nose hurt, while we heard lightning strikes," one nearby resident told local news outlet Metro TV, according to a Reuters report.
The Balongan Refinery is one of Indonesia's largest refineries and also one of its most crucial, as it feeds fuel and petrochemicals to the greater Jakarta area.
Questions have now been raised on how this incident will affect plastics and chemicals businesses and factories, though Pertamina has told the public that "fuel delivery to the public is undisturbed and currently still ongoing". Already many are demanding answers on how such a disastrous incident could happen to a state-owned refinery.
One politician, Kurtubi, pointed out in a TV interview that Balongan refinery, which has been in operation since 1994, is relatively new compared with other Pertamina refineries. Kurtubi, who is a member of the House of Representatives' commission for energy affairs, also demanded an evaluation of the distances between oil refineries and residential zones.
Sources: Reuters, BBC, BPBD Indramayu, EPA