Colombia's Ecopetrol says rebel attacks drop off as talks loom
LONDON, Sept 27 |
LONDON, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Colombia's Ecopetrol said rebel attacks on its pipelines had dropped in the last month, giving hope that upcoming peace talks to try to end five decades of war could benefit the country's largest oil producer.
Security problems prompted Ecopetrol to cut its output targets by 2.5 percent in July, but Chief Executive Javier Gutierrez told journalists on Thursday that since then, there had been fewer bombings.
"It (the number of attacks) was greater at the beginning of the year but right now it has slowed down," he said.
Colombia's government said in August it would it would seek peace with leftist rebels and talks are due to start next month, an historic move that could end Latin America's longest-running insurgency.
Gutierrez said the pipeline bombings and other rebel disruptions had only trimmed 3,000 barrels of oil from Ecopetrol's daily output in the last month, down from a 9,000 barrel per day loss in the months before that.
For 2012 as a whole, the attacks are forecast to have a 1.0 percent drag on Ecopetrol's production, said Gutierrez, who shrugged off worries that security problems will affect the company's ability to meet its goal of growing production to 1.3 million barrels by 2020.
Guerrilla attacks in the first half of 2012 resulted in a loss of nearly 11,000 barrels of oil per day, the CEO told Reuters in July, since when military protection has been ramped up, and Gutierrez said the company had improved the time it took to restart operations after an attack.
A series of attacks earlier this year by rebel groups, including the killing and kidnapping of oil workers and a three-fold increase in bombings of pipelines, hurt the sector, denting national oil output and Colombia's image.
But Ecopetrol's boss said that 80 companies had submitted interest in Colombia's next licensing round, a process where the government offers up blocks of land for exploration, highlighting the attractiveness of Latin America's no. 4 oil producer.
"The majors are returning to Colombia," he said.
Ecopetrol could look to team up with an oil major in its quest to produce unconventional hydrocarbons, known as shale gas and oil due to the rocks which yield them, Gutierrez said.
Shale oil and gas has transformed the energy outlook in the United States and Ecopetrol is looking to tap Colombia's shale resources. It is targeting production of 50,000 barrels from unconventionals by 2020.
Gutierrez also said that the company has no plans to issue bonds in the short term, explaining that arrangements revealed by Colombia's finance minister earlier in September referred to moves by the company to ensure its ability to access further financing in future if needed.
(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Catherine Evans)
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