Energy Minister: Colombia Needs More Oil Exploration, Reserves

BOGOTA - Colombia Energy Minister Federico Renjifo said Thursday he loses sleep worrying about the country's oil reserves--which at the current rate will last another eight years--and urged more spending on exploration.

Colombia has experienced an oil-output boom starting in 2005, and is now Latin America's fourth-largest crude producer, with production of nearly one million barrels a day. But the country hasn't had a major discovery in several years, and many oil fields that were once big producers, such as Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s Cano Limon, are past their prime and producing far less.

"Increasing reserves keeps me up at night more than reaching one million barrels a day" production, said Mr. Renjifo. Proven oil reserves were 2.3 billion barrels at the end of last year, versus 2.1 billion barrels in 2010.

Colombia's economy has become increasingly dependent on oil. Crude-oil sales abroad account for more than 50% of exports and are its main source of foreign revenue, leaving coffee, coal and other traditional exports well behind.

The oil sector could get a huge shot in the arm if the Colombian government is successful in upcoming peace talks with the leftist guerrilla group FARC. The peace talks, the first formal negotiations in a decade, begin in a few days in Norway and aim to put an end to 50 years of war.

FARC, which in Spanish stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, remains a serious threat in many regions of the country--including oil-rich zones--so if the rebels were to lay down their arms that could pave the way for rising exploration.


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