Colombia said Thursday it would increase protection of the country’s oil and mining industries after rebel groups drastically increased the number of attacks on companies and infrastructure over the past year, doing serious damage to the economically vital sectors.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon announced the creation of 18 new infantry batallions to protect the country’s mining, energy and road infrastructure. “These days there are many more points to protect, many more investments to take care of,” said Pinzon, according to a Defense Ministry statement.
While state-owned oil company Ecopetrol told U.S. television network Bloomberg there were “a few incidents” in July, statistics compiled by Colombia Reports showed that rebels have launched 18 attacks aimed at sabotaging the oil, mining and electrical sector since July 1.
“It’s true that terrorist actions have gone up in general in the country and they’re affecting in some way the normality of companies,” the vice president of Cerrejon, Colombia’s largest coal exporter, told Reuters Thursday after the multinational was hit by a terrorist attack which damaged its main coal-transporting railway.
Between January and June of this year, FARC and ELN guerrillas launched a total of 67 attacks against the Colombian oil industry, which according to news agency Reuters was a 300% increase over the same period in 2011.
The departments most affected by economic sabotage, by this website’s count, were Norte de Santander, Arauca and La Guajira, on the Venezuelan border, and the Putumayo and Nariño departments, which share a border with Ecuador.
The attacks ranged from blowing up oil pipelines and transport infrastructure to kidnapping oil company employees.
In some of the departments, the attacks have severely limited the industry’s output; Putumayo authorities said Thursday that only 50% of the department’s potential oil production was being realized due to continued rebel attacks against the oil industry. Putumayo had a potential oil production of 38,000 barrels of crude oil per day as of July, which corresponds to 7% of Colombia’s total production. The lost income in that department alone comes to approximately $1.8 million a day.
In early July, Emerald Energy, a UK-based subsidiary of the Chinese-owned conglomerate SinochemGroup, reported a complete shutdown in oil production in the southern Caqueta department due to FARC attacks and threats against the company’s oil installations.
Colombia’s oil production reached an average of 934,000 barrels of crude oil a day in June 2012, 0.5% less than the 939,000 barrels a day produced in the same month of 2011. The government attributed the decrease to rebel attacks against the oil industry.
The ongoing attacks forced Colombia to abandon its goal to produce 1 million barrels of oil per day this year and 1.35 million by 2013.
Andres Muñoz, the head currency trader at Corp. Financiera Colombiana, told Bloomberg that rebel attacks against the oil industry would lead to less dollar inflows, thereby contributing to curbing the strength of the Colombian peso.