In 2014, the National Liberation Army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have carried out 35 attacks against Colombian oil infrastructure.
As Colombia celebrates its largest increase in crude reserves in 15 years, terrorist attacks by the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) against oil infrastructure are escalating.
The balance of crude oil reserves on Dec. 31, 2013 was 2.445 billion barrels, up 2.86% in relation to 2012, Colombian Minister of Energy and Mines Amylkar Acosta Medina said during a May 5 press conference in Bogotá.
In 2013, the sector registered the highest number of attacks in a decade, with a total of 259, causing the country to decrease production by 18.6 million barrels of crude and scale back the target for the drilling of new wells from 135 to 115, according to the Colombian Petroleum Association (ACP).
In April of this year, the attacks caused a 4.29% decline in production – from an average of 977,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude in March to 935,000 bpd in April.
These attacks have seriously affected Colombia’s natural resources, particularly with respect to polluted tributaries.
The most recent attack by the ELN occurred on May 2, when an explosion destroyed a portion of the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline in the border area between the departments of Santander and Boyacá.
The explosion, near the municipality of Cubará in Boyacá, happened just before repairs were to begin on an area affected by another attack committed on March 25, which caused an oil spill that continues to pollute the Royota River, a tributary of the Arauca River.
The authorities declared a yellow alert in the region, preventing more than 7,500 residents from consuming water until the clean-up process has been completed and the spill isolated.
The May 2 attack affected more than seven bodies of water, including wetlands, rivers and tributaries, as well as the wildlife in the area, according to the non-profit Corporación Ambiental Prensa Verde.
Additionally, the explosion damaged three homes nearby, according to Cubará Mayor Jhon Jairo Alonso.
On April 27, in the rural region of El Tarra in the department of Norte de Santander, the ELN intercepted a caravan of Colombia’s state-run oil company Ecopetrol. The group, which was traveling to the location of the March 25 attack to begin repairs, had its 12 vehicles set ablaze. The attack didn’t result in any casualties or injuries.
As Ecopetrol’s technical team worked to repair the damage caused by the May 2 attack in Boyacá, six days later the guerrillas attacked another portion in Catatumbo, further delaying the recovery of the pipeline.
“We’ve had a lot of difficulties because every time we’ve tried to repair the pipeline, we’ve been prevented by the guerrillas,” said Colombia’s Minister of Mines and Energy, Amilkar Acosta, on May 9.
On April 7, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón announced security enhancements in the oil pipeline regions. Law enforcement has prevented at least 30 attacks against the country’s oil and energy infrastructure this year alone.
Pinzón added the terrorists’ escalation against the oil industry is merely a reflection of “the weakness” of guerrilla groups.
After the most recent attack, security was reinforced with 94 platoons exclusively assigned to protect the pipeline, Acosta said.
“We are quickly making progress on these projects because, fortunately, we now have a greater ability to respond to these attacks … and we hope to prevent these attacks as much as possible,” he added.
Acosta said that the ground operations are being reinforced with drones that monitor the area 24 hours per day and that pumping was expected to resume along the pipeline this week.
Caño Limón-Coveñas – Colombia’s largest and most frequently attacked oil pipeline – stretches 770 kilometers from the municipality of Arauquita in the department of Arauca to the municipality of Coveñas in the department of Sucre. It transports about 80,000 barrels of crude oil daily.
In April, attacks against this oil pipeline prevented the delivery of 1.5 million barrels of crude, resulting in losses of more than US$200 million to the national economy, according to Ecopetrol.
The attacks against oil infrastructure hinder the country’s production and dynamics of crude export, but they also affect the daily lives of the Colombians who live in places where oil provides royalties used to carry out social programs.
Additionally, the attacks on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline have caused 500 oil contractors to lose their jobs.
Edgar Ramiro Pacheco, the treasurer of the Workers’ Trade Union in Arauca, described the layoffs as “a labor slaughter” and expressed concern regarding the possibility of a repeat of the situation experienced in 2001, when hundreds of families were affected for the same reason.
The unions have asked oil companies to provide a plan that mitigates the social effects of the terrorist escalation.
In 2013, the oil industry contributed $31 billion pesos (about US$16 million) to the state and it’s expected the figure will rise in 2014, according to the ACP.
Attacks on Energy Infrastructure
While the center of the country is experiencing an environmental emergency caused by oil spills, Chaparral, in the department of Tolima, hasn’t been spared, as the May 2 FARC attack against an electrical transmission tower left five villages without electricity.
The FARC’s Front 21 was responsible for the attack, which affected more than 200,000 people, according to Gen. Jorge Maldonado, the commander of the Army’s Zeus Task Force.
“The population was convinced that the FARC had given up on these attacks, which directly affect citizens and the development of the region,” Maldonado said.
Tolima Gov. Luis Carlos Delgado described this attack against the civilian population as “inconceivable,” given the FARC is engaged in peace talks with the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba.
“The business activities of the municipality have been affected, trade has been paralyzed, without electricity nothing can be done … the economic losses are incalculable,” Delgado told local media outlets.