Ecopetrol to Drill Gibraltar 3 in March

Colombia's state oil firm Ecopetrol in March will start drilling the Gibraltar 3 oil exploration well in Norte de Santander department's Toledo municipality without the assistance of a private sector partner, the company reported.

The company already has drilled two wells at the same property - Gibraltar 1 and 2 - which is right outside the land being safeguarded for the U'wa indigenous group.

The U'wa and the government have been at loggerheads in the past regarding drilling inside the safeguarded lands.

But this time there will be no dispute, Ecopetrol said.

"The drilling area is located outside of U'wa indigenous safeguard so does not require previous consultation with the community," the statement reads.

The environmental license to drill in the area was granted in 1999 by the environment, housing and territorial development ministry, the statement said.

Gibraltar is in the Cedeno region of Toledo.

Ecopetrol exported a record US$3.31bn of crude and other products last year, up 17% from 2005, the company said in a separate statement.

Colombia's Castilla blend, which comes from the Llanos Orientales field, accounted for US$950mn in exports last year, second only to fuel oil exports of US$954mn. Vascon crude came in third, Ecopetrol said, without providing a figure.

The company produces roughly 300,000boe/d and the country as a whole more than 500,000boe/d.

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