BOGOTA, June 20 Rebel attacks on infrastructure
and burdensome red tape are making Colombia's one million barrel
a day oil sector the Andean nation's biggest economic concern,
Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said on Friday.
Average output so far this year has slipped to 981,000 bpd
from 1,006,000 bpd in 2013 mainly because of attacks on
pipelines by leftist rebels, one of which kept a major pipeline
shut for two months.
Cardenas told local radio that the long waits faced by oil
companies to obtain the permits necessary to start projects have
also constricted production growth, which is leveling off after
almost doubling since 2007.
"We cannot allow oil activity to slow down. I think it's the
big focus now because if we don't keep up this pace and oil
activity slows for whatever reason ... this will affect all
Colombians," he said.
Regular bomb attacks by leftist FARC and ELN guerrillas
normally shut stretches of the country's pipelines down for
several days while repairs are carried out. There were 259 such
explosions in 2013, the highest in a decade, Colombia's
Petroleum Association says.
Economic analysts have voiced caution over Colombia's heavy
dependence on oil exports, which account for about 40 percent of
export revenue. Current output also makes it a struggle for the
country to raise its own oil reserves beyond a fairly tight
Shares in state-owned oil producer Ecopetrol, which
produces about two thirds of the country's crude, have fallen
about 12 percent over the past year. The next largest producer
is Canada's Pacific Rubiales.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who was re-elected on Sunday,
recognized during his campaign the need to streamline the
government's management of the oil sector so that planned
private investments can be turned into productive projects more
A 2011 reform slashed the share of royalties distributed to
communities living closest to oil and mining projects, spurring
resistance to extractive activity by residents who say they will
suffer the effects of pollution while receiving negligible
Despite Cardenas's caution, Colombia's economy is growing at
a fast pace. In the first quarter, it grew by 6.4 percent from
the same period a year earlier, the fastest first-quarter growth
(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Additional reporting and
writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Peter Galloway)