(Changes source to energy ministry; adds U'wa quote, detail)
By Peter Murphy
BOGOTA May 1 A Colombian oil pipeline owned by
state-run Ecopetrol will be repaired after the
government reached a deal with the U'wa indigenous community who
blocked access to a damaged section for more than a month, the
Energy Ministry said on Thursday.
The 780-km (485-mile) Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline has been
offline since a bomb attack by leftist guerrillas on March 25.
Engineers have been unable to access the site due to a blockade
by the U'wa who demand the pipeline be re-routed away from their
area and that a nearby hydrocarbons project be scrapped.
The Cano Limon and Caricare fields are operated by New
York-listed Occidental Petroleum Corp. They produce
about 67,000 barrels per day of crude via the pipeline, which
has been shut since the explosion.
Ecopetrol was forced to declare force majeure on at least 25
delivery contracts due to the stoppage. The pipeline's total
capacity is around 220,000 barrels per day.
The government agreed to suspend for one month the nearby
Magallanes gas exploration project to evaluate its environmental
impact and also to despatch a team to confirm the boundaries of
the U'wa territory, the Energy Ministry said in a statement.
As well as Energy Minister Amylkar Acosta, the meeting was
also attended by Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri Valencia
and Ecopetrol Chief Executive Officer Javier Genaro Gutierrez.
Elmer Tegria, an U'wa leader, said the meeting had lasted 11
hours and that those manning the blockade would be contacted
early on Friday and ordered to disband.
"It's our hope that the government does what they have
committed to," he said. "Let's see."
Energy Minister Amylkar Acosta said on Tuesday that there
might have been grounds to declare a state of emergency to deal
with the blockade, suggesting the government had considered
using armed forces to gain access to the pipe.
The deal will likely come as a relief to President Juan
Manuel Santos whose support could have been dented in
presidential elections less than four weeks away if he ordered
the use of force. He is seeking a second four-year mandate.
Polls show Santos is the front-runner in the election but
voting looks set to go to a run-off with no candidate having
close to the 50 percent required for a first-round victory.
The month-long closure of a key Colombian oil pipeline
following a bomb attack had cut the Andean nation's daily crude
output by about 72,000 barrels, or about 7 percent, according to
data from state-run oil company Ecopetrol, which owns
Colombia is Latin American's fourth biggest oil producer
with usual production of around 1 million barrels per day, a
level the energy minister said would be missed in April due to
the pipeline shut down.
Colombia's leftist rebels have been intensifying their
attacks on the country's oil pipelines, with 259 attacks last
year alone. Oil companies usually manage to repair the damage
within a few days and avoid major disruptions.
Colombia's government has been holding peace talks with FARC
rebels since late 2012 even as combat between the two sides
(Additional reporting by Monica Garcia; Editing by Lisa
Shumaker and Joseph Radford)