The Crude Reality of the Montara Oil Spill

In this day and age, the environment is at the forefront of our minds. This is seen through this year’s ban of single-use plastic bags, McDonald’s plans to eradicate plastic straws by 2020, the half a billion dollars that have been funded by the Australian Government towards strengthening and cleaning up the Great Barrier Reef, and the ongoing push for renewable energy friendly infrastructure. It is obvious Australia and other developed countries have finally come to the realisation that we might just have a problem on our hands.

It seems as though the media and society’s obsession with how plastic bags and straws are destroying marine life has outshone other, perhaps more pressing, issues. Look, I’m not saying they aren’t destroying the planet, but I think there may be other matters that have been *ahem* swept under the rug.

Oil spills are not a new concept and can be defined as a man-made disaster where oil escapes into the sea or another body of water, by the Oxford Dictionary. Now, would you be surprised if I told you that disaster is a total understatement, especially when talking about the 2009 Montara Oil Spill?

Why is that you may ask? Well, you really shouldn’t get me started…

So… What Happened?

Look, that’s not an easy explanation so here’s a video explains it for me!


I’m just kidding. I’ll give you the rundown…

After the PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) Australasian West Atlas Rig unknowingly sprung a leak, approximately 23,000 tonnes of gas and crude oil leaked into the surrounding waters of the Timor Sea. After 74 days, the leak was eventually blocked and to stop the spread of the oil a whopping 184,000 litres of chemical dispersant was sprayed into the ocean; hurrah for saving the planet! Yeah… not exactly.

Following the incident, the PTTEP conducted several scientific studies on the surrounding areas. Naturally, they concluded that little or no damage had been made to the ecosystem of the Timor Sea and Australia. *cough* yeah, sure *cough*. It was also made clear that the spill did not reach Indonesian waters and therefore, no further investigation was required as no damage could have possibly occurred. LOL, whatever ya ‘reckon.

Indonesian Fishermen encounter oil from the Montara spill

The Ongoing Effects…

Since the spill in 2009, the PTTEP seem to be in a state of pure ignorance. With their ability to keep their eyes and ears shut on the countless environmental, social, and economic issues that have been rampant in Indonesia ever since the disaster.

Let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?

  • Destruction of delicate marine ecology
  • Death of fish all throughout the Timor Sea and Indonesian waters
  • Death of mangrove trees and the flooding of small coastal villages as a result
  • Massive strain on food supply and income
  • Locals forced to relocate due to work, sickness, and income
  • Presence of harsh chemicals in the water
  • Skin irritations, sickness, food poisoning, diarrhoea, and god knows what else

Oh wait, and the utter destruction of the once thriving industry of seaweed farming.

To this day, local Indonesian seaweed farmers have been unable to produce any viable crop, and the economic strain is destroying their livelihood. The correlation between the spill and these issues are blinding; however, the PTTEP still denies any connection.

Now, if all that doesn’t convince you disaster is an understatement; don’t worry, I’m not finished yet.

The ‘Ramifications’…

In comparison to other major spill cleanup and rejuvenation efforts, the PTTEP seems to be pretty pathetic. Take the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 for example. Approximately $20 billion is being paid by British Petroleum (BP) to the victims of the disaster. At least BP has admitted their liability and is actively taking steps to rectify their screw up. But, with no money paid to the thousands of affected Indonesians and no cleanup undertaken; the PTTEP could probably take a thing or two from BP. Nice work guys, really…

Six years post-spill, the Australian Lawyers Alliance released a 250+ page report detailing their investigation and discoveries in Indonesia, After the Spill: Investigating Australia’s Montara Oil Disaster in Indonesia. In Indonesia? Pfft, the oil didn’t reach there, right? Wrong.

Who’s to Blame?

So, how could they possibly get away with something like this? My guess is the media has a part to play here.

The media holds huge power and responsibility when it comes to the availability of information on current events for the public. When major events, like the Montara Oil spill, are covered by media outlets, they can have a major influence over public knowledge, perception, and the cleanup efforts that may or may not be undertaken.

With minimal coverage over the ongoing environmental, social, and economic effects in the surrounding areas, the media has helped the PTTEP in wiggling their way out of any responsibility. Without media coverage, the public has been kept in the dark as little to no information was available at the time. It seems strange that in our increasingly connected and commodified world, we are still sheltered and blindsided by media coverage. We know that the media influences our beliefs, morals, and can influence change but why did no one question what little the media did have to say about the Montara disaster?

Of course, there were articles floating around on the issue but most were based around the little damage done and how the oil never reached Indonesian waters. Funnily enough, it was the PTTEP in charge of conducting such tests on the surrounding environment… A little fishy isn’t it? Or should I say dead fishy?

I guess you could say there’s a rainbow of hope shining on Indonesia and its locals with these issues finally getting some airtime, but is it too little, too late?

With the utter destruction of thousands of lives, marine life, and the economy; the PTTEP has turned a blind eye to those who need it most, and so has the media. Why is it that these people and the environment must suffer at the hands of big corporations who refuse to take responsibility for their own mess? The media has failed the Indonesians. It has not fulfilled its duty as a watchdog, an unbiased realm of information. And that just really isn’t good enough for me. 

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