Colombia oil reserves rose 10% in 2011

Colombia’s proven oil reserves climbed 10% last year compared with 2010, but the government says more is needed and is urging companies to spend more on exploration.

According to data released late Thursday from the government’s oil licensing agency ANH, proven reserves were 2.259 billion barrels at the end of last year, versus 2.058 billion barrels in 2010.

Colombia is Latin America’s fourth largest oil producer and is likely to soon reach a record 1 million barrels a day of crude oil output, after averaging 936,000 barrels a day last year. Oil production last month averaged 955,000 barrels a day.

However, Mines and Energy Minister Mauricio Cardenas warned earlier this week, in a speech to oil companies in Cartagena, that focus needs to shift toward building up reserves.

“We have to invest more in [exploration],” Cardenas said. “Let’s not just put the foot on the accelerator of oil production, let’s fill up the tank.”

Cardenas said state-controlled Ecopetrol (ECOPETROL.BO, EC), which is responsible for 60% of production in Colombia, “has 8.3 years worth of reserves, and there are companies here that have less than that. We need to focus on exploration.”

Ecopetrol has 1.857 billion barrels worth of proven reserves of oil, far less than Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PBR, PETR4.BR), which has reserves of about 15 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

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