EXCLUSIVE Colombia's Ecopetrol asks to suspend fracking contracts for 90 days

The entrance of Ecopetrol's Castilla oil rig platform is seen in Castilla La Nueva, Colombia June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

BOGOTA, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Colombia's state-run oil company Ecopetrol (ECO.CN) has asked the oil regulator to suspend contracts for two fracking pilot projects for 90 days, the company and two sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

The two projects - being developed in Santander province by Ecopetrol and U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) - have faced stiff resistance from environmental groups and could be halted outright if a law backed by the administration of new leftist President Gustavo Petro passes congress. read more

"Last Friday we asked the (national hydrocarbons agency) to temporarily suspend the Kale and Platero contracts for a term of 90 days," a company spokesman said, without confirming the reason for the request.

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Ecopetrol may want to pause spending until the fate of the anti-fracking law is decided, a source familiar with a matter said.

"The suspension looks to open a waiting space while the future of the pilots is defined," they said.

The hydrocarbons agency said Ecopetrol's request was received on Friday and is being reviewed by its legal department and by the energy ministry.

Advocates of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have long argued that developing non-conventional energy deposits is vital for Colombia's economy and energy self-sufficiency.

The country's non-conventional deposits have potential output of up to 9 billion barrels, the government says.

Oil is Colombia's top export and source of foreign exchange and the country has some 7.6 years worth of reserves.

Approval for commercial development of non-conventional deposits was the subject of a long legal battle in the country's highest administrative court.

The court in July paved the way for development when it ruled against a lawsuit looking to nullify fracking rules. It had previously approved the pilot projects. read more

Petro promised on the campaign trail to bar fracking in favor of a transition to renewable energy.

His government has backed the new bill proposed by an anti-fracking coalition - its fourth attempt to ban the practice - and activists are optimistic about the law's chances for success.

Anti-fracking activists said this year they were facing increased threats and violence from unknown assailants, with some campaigners forced to flee in fear for their lives. read more

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Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis

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