Pilfering Data Shows Stakes Are High in Colombia Offshore Quest

(Bloomberg) -- Untapped offshore deposits are so important to Colombia’s flagging oil industry that some people aren’t waiting for the release of exploration results.

Thieves made off with discs containing copies of seismic data belonging to Repsol SA and Canacol Energy Ltd., Mines and Energy Minister Tomas Gonzalez said this week.

The incident comes as state-controlled Ecopetrol SA shifts its exploration focus to fields off the Caribbean coast following onshore drilling failures that have contributed to stagnating output after several years of growth. Ecopetrol’s strategy will be to partner with offshore experts, Vice President Max Torres said in a May 26 conference call.

“Stealing offshore information is much more lucrative than onshore,” Ultrabursatiles analyst Cristian Hernandez said in a telephone interview from Bogota Wednesday. “This type of news is worrying for foreign investors who know the offshore process and are going to invest the money.”

Operators in Colombia must provide a copy of all data to the hydrocarbon agency’s repository where it remains confidential. The stolen discs contained information on the Repsol-operated Guajira Offshore-1 block in the Caribbean where Statoil ASA and Ecopetrol are partners. An investigation is under way, Gonzalez told reporters on Tuesday.

'Very Competitive’

Repsol didn’t reply to a voice-mail and e-mail seeking comment on the theft. Canacol Chief Executive Officer Charle Gamba said he was “very surprised” when the hydrocarbons agency informed him June 1 of the theft of 29 square kilometers (11 miles) of 3-D seismic data from its onshore Llanos 23 block.

Information on Llanos 23, where Canacol has a 90 percent stake, will be of little use to other companies, although the theft of the offshore data is concerning, Gamba said.


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