Key Ecuador crude oil pipeline ruptures while halted by erosion

QUITO, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Erosion in the Amazon region has ruptured Ecuador's state-owned pipeline SOTE, the same problem that led to its shutdown last week, the Energy Ministry said on Tuesday.

The collapse in the pipeline's tubing did not cause any environmental damage given it was empty following its suspension, along with the privately-owned OCP pipeline, last week, the ministry said.

"The opportune decision to suspend pumping of crude ... and the preventative drainage activities which were carried out avoided environmental effects," it said in a statement.

The ministry did not provide details on when the pipeline would be repaired and resume operations.

Earlier in the day, before the rupture announcement, President Guillermo Lasso said that operations would begin to normalize in the next 17 days, weather permitting, thanks in part to a new detour being constructed for the SOTE.

Ecuador's government declared force majeure over its oil exports and production contracts on Monday because of the pipeline closures, caused by ongoing erosion in Napo province.

The country's crude production averaged 485,000 bpd before the force majeure. By Tuesday it had fallen to close to 220,000 bpd, according to government data.

State-oil company Petroecuador has said its contingency plan includes the gradual shuttering of some oil wells.

Petroecuador has built six detours for the SOTE and is working on a seventh, while OCP has eight temporary and two permanent detours.

The erosion began last year and has also threatened the water catchment of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant and closed a major road which connects capital Quito with the Amazon.

In April 2020, both pipelines suffered ruptures due to the sinking of land in Napo, leading the country to declare force majeure.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Jane Wardell

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