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Protests close Canada firm's Colombia oil fields

24 september 2011, 17:29
Violent protests by hundreds of employees have forced the Canadian-Colombian firm Pacific Rubiales to shut down operations at its two largest Colombian oil fields, AFP reports, quoting the company's vice president.

"At the moment production at the Rubiales and Quifa fields is shut down. We have halted the production of 225,000 barrels a day," equivalent to 25 percent of the firm's total Colombian production, Camilo Valencia said Tuesday.

Valencia insisted that the demonstrations, which began on Sunday, were not a labor strike but "an unjustified and hostile takeover of our facilities."

Pacific Rubiales, which operates the two fields in the central Meta department along with state-owned Ecopetrol, said around 300 contract employees had burned tents and other equipment, sabotaged pipelines and blocked roads.

Federico Restrepo, another company vice president, expressed shock at the demonstrations, saying the company had held talks in July with workers and government representatives.

"We see a very complex situation that has no justification because we are at the table of social dialogue with the government's support," he said.

The country's main oil workers union said the riots were sparked by the intervention of riot police during a "peaceful protest" by contract workers who were demanding the same wages as regular employees.

"The situation is worrying," union leader Hector Vaca told AFP, adding that some 4,500 Pacific Rubiales contract employees are affiliated with the union.

Colombia produced 953,000 barrels of oil per day in August, a rise of more than 20 percent over the past year.

The center-right government of President Juan Manuel Santos sees the oil industry as a key driver of economic growth and is aiming to raise crude output to 1.15 million barrels a day by the end of his term in 2014.

The country is now the third-largest oil producer in South America after Venezuela and Brazil.

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