Analysis: Pertamina’s latest fire incident ignites blame game – Academia

Tenggara Strategics (The Jakarta Post)

Jakarta ●
Wed, March 15, 2023

the order

Another year and it’s another fire for PT Pertamina: On February 3, a fire broke out at the Plumpang depot of the state-owned energy holding company in North Jakarta, killing 20 people living in a residential area near the depot lived. The incident has raised several questions including how a residential area came about so close to the tank terminal, who is responsible for the disaster and whether the terminal or local residents should be relocated to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

Pertamina’s safety standards are now back in the red, not only in terms of risk management for the facilities, but also in terms of public safety for the surrounding community. The Pertamina Plumpang Depot is only 28 meters from the nearest residential area, so the depot fire quickly spread to nearby homes, killing or injuring dozens before they could flee the fire.

The cause of the fire in the depot is still being determined. According to several local residents who witnessed the fire, it had just stopped raining when they heard thunder, followed by an explosion and a pungent smell of gasoline, before flames erupted. National police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo suggested that a technical problem might have occurred while filling a fuel tank around that time.

Fuel evaporates easily and the vapors can mix with air, so a lightning strike could ignite the combustible mixture that has formed and start the fire. The last fire at Pertamina’s Balongan refinery in 2021 was said to have been caused by a lightning strike. (Also read: Fire in the Pertamina refinery: Lightning strikes three times in 2021).

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After the deadly blaze, several former Jakarta governors, from Anies Baswedan to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, have been accused of failing to relocate residents near the depot to a safer area during their tenure. Meanwhile, Pertamina directors and commissioners, including President Director Nicke Widyawati and President Commissioner Basuki Tjahja Purnama, have been accused of failing to ensure the security of the depot. In the end, however, Dedi Sunardi, Pertamina’s head of business support, bore the brunt of the blame and was removed from his position.

Minister for State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Erick Thohir, and Minister for Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, have opposing views on relocation opportunities. According to Luhut, the fuel depot plays a strategic role in the fuel supply of Greater Jakarta, which accounts for 20 percent of Pertamina’s total fuel distribution. Therefore, the people living around the depot should be relocated instead of moving the facility.

Erick, on the other hand, has announced that the government will move the Pertamina depot from Plumpang to land owned by state port operator PT Pelabuhan Indonesia (Pelindo) in 2024. The associated construction time is 2 to 2.5 years, so that the entire relocation project will take around 3.5 years.

What’s more

The public is divided on who should bear the blame. Some feel Anies should be responsible for issuing building permits (IMB) for people to build private homes near the depot even though they didn’t have land certificates, which encouraged them to live in such a dangerous area. Others say President Jokowi was to blame for establishing Community Units (RWs) in the area and issuing Identity Cards (KTP) to people residing in local RWs so they had legal residency status.

Still others say that although Basuki had warned about people living around the depot, which was intended as a buffer zone, he failed to initiate resettlement during his tenure as Jakarta governor. Meanwhile, some people want him to step down as Commissioner to the President of Pertamina due to the company’s failure to ensure the security of the depot.

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Nicke was also at the end of relentless public calls to step down as director of the President of Pertamina, and believed Erick was referring to her when the SOEs minister said he would not hesitate to sack anyone blamed for the incident , but it was Dedi who was turned away.

what we heard

A number of sources at Pertamina said the company had run simulations showing the projected cost of relocating the Plumpang depot would be higher than relocating residents from the surrounding buffer zone. However, the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) had never disclosed the cost comparison because relocating Plumpang residents was not a popular option.

“It could provoke resistance from local residents even though they have illegally occupied the land there,” a Pertamina source said.

Plans to relocate the Plumpang Depot have been around since its inception in 1974. But like every Jakarta governor since 2007, Minister Erick Thohir dares not evict the people living in the Plumpang Depot’s designated buffer zone.

Erick’s reluctance has sparked internal rumors at Pertamina. One claims the minister doesn’t want to move local residents for fear the unpopular decision could lower his eligibility ratings ahead of the 2024 election as he fights for his vice presidential nomination.

An oil and gas industry health, safety and environment (HSE) expert said there would not have been a major fire incident if the buffer zone around the Plumpung depot had been properly secured. He also said residential areas could easily ignite fumes from evaporating fuel.

“Pipe leaks produce flammable fumes when [fuel fumes] come into contact with heat sources in residential areas,” says the expert. In addition, strong steam was escaping from a leaking pipe at the time of the fire, which spread to the surrounding neighborhood.

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Another source said the suspected pipe leak was due to a lack of maintenance and low safety standards at the Plumpang depot, although several parts of the facility were connected to a digital monitoring system. Any leaks or damage should have been picked up by the control room, the source said.

They also mentioned that lack of maintenance was a problem at other Pertamina depots and refineries. The results of recent audits for several plants showed deposits on several pipes that could lead to leaks or high pressure. And while a number of depots and refineries had lightning rods, sometimes the devices didn’t work properly.

The source claimed Pertamina made no immediate improvements in response to the audit’s findings.


This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in partnership with The Jakarta Post to provide the latest comprehensive and authoritative analysis of Indonesia’s political and business landscape. Access our latest issue to read the articles below:


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