BOGOTÁ, Colombia – The blast served as a clear reminder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) destructive power.
The Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline, which stretches 770 kilometers (478 miles) and transports 100,000 barrels of oil daily, was damaged by explosives ignited by the FARC’s “Reinel Méndez” arm on June 20.
And it was not an isolated incident.
The FARC has been responsible for 22 attacks against oil pipelines nationwide so far this year, causing about US$5.54 million in losses, according to government-run oil giant Ecopetrol.
The latest attack directly affected 300 people in the area of Saravena and damaged the ecosystem of the Banadía River, as well as the Caño Claro and Caño Robles streams, according to Ecopetrol.
Thirteen of the 22 attacks involved explosions, while the other nine were thwarted by Colombian authorities. In 2011, the FARC carried out 84 attacks on oil pipelines.
Though it is still too early to determine how much oil was spilled as a result of the June 20 attack, Ecopetrol will assess the environmental damage caused and provide water, food and basic necessities to impacted residents during the clean-up process.
León Valencia, the director of the Nuevo Arco Iris Foundation, which studies the internal conflict between the FARC and the state, said the terrorist group has escalated its attacks on pipelines because oil exploration is pushing into areas – namely the departments of Arauca, Putumayo, Chocó and Vaupés – that have long been FARC territory.
“Basically, Colombia needs to increase its oil infrastructure and has to be prepared for the fact that this year the FARC has been engaging in a high volume of attacks with explosives,” he said. “Keep in mind that the FARC also has a stake in illegal mining and oil extraction. The government must develop a strategy that helps the country achieve its goals with respect to this issue, without scaring off foreign investors.”
Colombian Minister of Mines and Energy Mauricio Cárdenas Santa María said the FARC’s attacks have impacted oil production nationwide.
“Colombia’s goal in terms of oil is to have an average production of one million barrels a day, but the constant attacks on our infrastructure have slowed progress,” he said.
In May 2012, Colombia produced 936,052 barrels of oil per day, down 2% from April, according to Cárdenas.
“It’s the illegal extraction and the attacks that are hurting production,” he added. “Illegal mining has already been clearly divided into two worlds: informal mining, which seeks to operate legally and receives our assistance, and criminal mining, which is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We also have the power to press charges and imprison all those who attack the country’s oil infrastructure.”
Foreign companies involved in Colombia’s oil sector remain committed to drilling in the Andean nation, said Alejandro Martínez, the president of the Colombian Petroleum Association (ACP).
“No companies are thinking about leaving because of security issues,” he said. “But we hope that the security situation improves and the rules of the game remain stable.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is assisting the oil industry’s expansion, which is why he allocated 17.6 million hectares encompassing Arauca, Putumayo, Chocó and Vaupés as an energy mining reserve.
“Illegal groups operate in those areas,” he said on June 21. “Illegal mining has become, not just in Colombia, but in many countries across the world, a real problem for the environment. In the case of Colombia, it’s not just a problem for the environment, but also a source of funding for illegal groups.”