Colombia's Ecopetrol halts Cano Limon pipeline after attack

BOGOTA, April 27 (Reuters) - A bomb attack early Thursday morning has caused an oil spill and halted the flow of crude along Colombia’s second largest oil pipeline, the Cano-Limon Covenas, state oil company Ecopetrol said.

The attack on the 485-mile (780-km) pipeline which can carry up to 210,000 barrels per day of crude, has so far not affected production at the Cano Limon field, operated by U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum Corp, or exports. Ecopetrol said in a statement that the bomb attack took place at 1:30 a.m. in El Carmen municipality in eastern Norte de Santander province. Spillage was affecting a water source that serves 3,500 area residents, the company added.

Staff are working to clean up the spill, Ecopetrol said. The pipeline has suffered 31 attacks this year so far and was halted for 46 days in March and April because of bombings.

Since 1986 the pipeline has been out of service 3,800 days, or 10.4 years, 30 percent of its life. Some 66 million gallons of crude have been spilled since 2000, Ecopetrol says.

The company did not specifically name those responsible for the attacks but the government’s chief negotiator at peace talks with the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels tweeted that the attack was “outrageous and foolish.”

“With terrorist attacks like this that affect civilian, non-combatant populations, the ELN complicates Quito negotiations,” Juan Camilo Restrepo said on Twitter.

Attacks by the ELN - considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union - on oil infrastructure have been frequent during the group’s five-decade war with the government. The attacks, which numbered 43 last year, cause oil spills and environmental damage.

The ELN has about 2,000 combatants and opposes the presence of multinational companies in the mining and oil sector, claiming that they seize natural resources without leaving benefits to the country’s population or economy.

President Juan Manuel Santos and the ELN in February launched formal peace negotiations in Ecuador, but the group has stepped up its attacks since. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Helen Murphy and Marguerita Choy)