* Oil contractors protesting over working conditions
* Meta province is Colombia's highest producing department
* Production stopped at Rubiales field-Pacific Rubiales
(Recasts, adds details, updates with comment from Pacific
By Jack Kimball and Luis Jaime Acosta
BOGOTA, July 19 Colombian protesters blocked
crude oil production at the Andean nation's highest-producing
field in the Llanos Basin on Tuesday before security forces
took back control, Pacific Rubiales and officials said.
Protests against oil and mining companies are common in
Latin America's No. 4 oil producer, with local communities
seeking jobs or compensation for damages and workers
complaining about working conditions and pay.
"They proceeded to violently take over Rubiales production
facilities and that forced the company ... to progressively
close the Rubiales field production," the company said.
"At 1 p.m. (1800 GMT), law enforcement personnel ... took
control of the facilities at Rubiales camp," it said adding
that it had lost production of 177,000 barrels of oil so far.
Unions and officials said oil contractors and residents
were protesting Spanish firm Cepsa's CEP.MC local Colombian
affiliate Cepcolsa after it fired a contracting company and its
1,100 workers. That then spread to Pacific Rubiales' workers.
Contractors were joined by local residents in the
municipality of Puerto Gaitan in Meta province to protest labor
conditions and rights, unions said.
"Workers at Pacific Rubiales ... went out in a social
protest about the issue of breaching legal labor rights,"
Rodolfo Vecino, president of the national oil workers union
known by its Spanish acronym USO, told Reuters.
Pacific Rubiales' fields are the highest producing in
Colombia and are operated in association with state oil company
Ecopetrol ECO.CN(EC.N), while Cepcolsa has an output of
around 20,000 barrels per day in the Meta province.
Alejandro Martinez, head of an association representing
private oil companies including Pacific, told Reuters that at
least 500 people had been protesting at Rubiales although no
proposal had yet been submitted to the Canadian company.
"It's out of control ... There have been injuries ... there
were some trucks burned ... and the operation of the field and
pipeline had to be stopped," Martinez said.
Colombia's Vice President Angelino Garzon said in a
statement there was no deal despite hours of talks between the
government, Cepsa, Ecopetrol, unions and the community.
Nationally, the Andean country produces over 900,000 bpd,
mostly of heavy crude oil from the Llanos Basin, record highs
for Colombia as better security and fiscal terms have boosted
investment into the energy and mining sectors.
Once dismissed as a failing state mired in drug violence
and guerrilla war, Colombia is enjoying a flood of foreign
investment in its petroleum and mining sectors.
(Editing by David Gregorio)