Colombia pipeline ready to transport more crude if fracking approved: company

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Pipeline company Oleoducto de Colombia is ready to move increased crude output from the center of Colombia to the Caribbean if the use of fracking is approved in the Andean country, the company’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

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Both the government and investors interested in possible projects that would use hydraulic fracturing, which breaks up rock formations with pressurized liquid, are waiting for an administrative tribunal to rule on whether the technique will be allowed.

Its possible use has sparked vitriolic debate among lawmakers, activists, officials and regular citizens about whether it could cause pollution or other environmental harm.

The government has said that fracking could nearly triple the country’s reserves to some 1.95 million barrels, equivalent to 6.2 years.

“The evacuation and transport systems of the pipeline are ready to receive an incremental production via fracking,” Oleoducto de Colombia’s Natalia De la Calle said.

The company, majority-owned by state-run oil company Ecopetrol moves a third of the country’s oil output.

The 483 km (300 mile) long pipeline can transport up to 236,000 barrels per day (bpd) and runs through the Magdalena Medio region, home to geological formations estimated to contain between 2 billion and 7 billion barrels of crude.

“If we’re talking about investments, the sector is ready to make those investments, it’s willing,” De la Calle said, without providing concrete figures.

The company will likely not need to invest much now to increase the pipeline’s capacity, she said, but will spend money on reception and distribution systems.

“An increase in capacity for Oleoducto de Colombia could be something that we review in the future given the results of non-conventional deposits if that’s the case,” De la Calle said.

Ecopetrol and minority owners, who include China’s Emerald Energy [SASCA.UL], France’s Perenco, Canada’s Frontera Energy and Spain’s Repsol, have the necessary funds to make adjustments, she said.

In a worst case scenario where Colombia was forced to import crude, the pipeline could be used to carry it to refineries like the one in central Barrancabermeja, De la Calle said.

“All of the systems can be reversed. We can do what’s necessary although that’s not contemplated now,” she said.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Nick Zieminski