Ecopetrol seeks license to starts fracking tests in Colombia

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Ecopetrol is pictured at its headquarters in Bogota, Colombia August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

BARRANCABERMEJA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombia’s state oil company Ecopetrol has requested an environmental license to launch a pilot plan to explore for crude oil from unconventional deposits using fracking technology, its chief executive said.

Felipe Bayon told Reuters late on Friday the plan, which could triple Colombia’s proven reserves, would be supervised by local communities and environmentalists to ensure it meets safety standards.

Colombia does not currently carry out oil exploration or exploitation activities with fracking, but President Ivan Duque favors the technique, used to extract oil and gas from unconventional deposits in rock formations that do not allow the movement of fluid.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology fractures rock formations with pressurized liquid. Its use is credited for booming oil and gas production in the United States, but environmental activist have blamed it for water pollution. Local communities and environmentalists in Colombia have opposed the technology.

If the permit is granted the pilot would begin in the coming months in Magdalena Medio, an area where the La Luna and Tablazo geological formations converge and which could have between 2 billion to 7 billion barrels of oil, Bayon said during a visit to the Barrancabermeja refinery in central Colombia.

This would triple the nation’s reserves. Colombia has 1.78 billion barrels of proven reserves of crude.

“The Magdalena Medio zone has a potential to be determined, but it could continue to help the country’s energy security and self-supply,” he said.

Bayon declined to say how much money would be invested in the pilot.

Colombia, which produced 854,121 barrels of oil per day in 2017, was hurt in recent years by the drop in international oil prices, hitting hard at the economy.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by David Gregorio