The head of an association of multinational oil companies operating in Colombia said Wednesday it’s the government’s job, and not that of the companies themselves, to provide security to oil workers and infrastructure against rebel attacks.
“We as a sector understand very clearly that security will be provided exclusively by the state,” Alejandro Martinez, president of the Colombian Oil Association, told Caracol Radio.
Martinez’s comments come one day after Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera said the sharp growth in Colombia’s oil sector has made it impossible for military and police to adequately protect all oil installations, many of which are located in remote regions near guerrilla strongholds.
The defense minister said oil companies need their own private security forces to help government troops combat a wave of attacks and kidnappings by Marxist rebels that has threatened to derail the oil industry’s four-year growth spurt.
“It’s impossible to maintain any longer our current security plan–one that was effective years ago when there were very few oil companies and fields to care for,” the minister said Tuesday. “There are now 130 oil companies out there.”
But Martinez, whose association members include the local units of Exxon Mobil Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp., pointed out that in addition to paying regular taxes like companies in other sectors, the oil industry also has an agreement with the government in which it pays a total 100 billion pesos ($55 million) a year for government troops to provide the necessary security.
He added that the oil companies are currently meeting with the government to resolve the situation.
The debate over who should be providing security against rebel attacks has gained importance in recent months as Colombia’s largest Marxist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has stepped up attacks on the oil sector.
On Sunday, the FARC was blamed for blowing up oil drilling equipment and burning 1,000 barrels of crude at a field near Venezuela operated by Canada’s Alange Energy Corp. Last week, guerrillas set off a roadside bomb that killed an oil worker for a local seismic firm. In June, the FARC kidnapped four Chinese workers for China’s state-owned Sinochem International Corp.
Some 94 million acres of land in Colombia are being used for oil exploration or production, compared with 20 million acres just four years ago. Oil production has also soared during that time, reaching average output of 929,000 barrels a day last month compared with 531,000 barrels a day in 2007.