Demonstrators have set up blockades and damaged wells in the Colombian department of Santander in protest of state-controlled oil giant Ecopetrol, the company said. The blockades around the municipality of El Centro and La Cifra Infantas oilfield have prevented more than 1,000 employees from arriving at their worksites, according to the company, and protestors have opened tank valves and damaged 222 wells.
Ecopetrol also said that “violence has increased” since this morning due to “attacks on oil infrastructure” near the oilfield in the Middle Magdalena region. The resulting disruption has already prevented the production of more than 4,000 barrels of oil.
Photo: A vehicle was set ablaze by demonstrators in Meta, according to Ecopetrol, in a week that has seen two major protests against the oil company in different regions of Colombia. (Credit: Ecopetrol)
Protestors have knocked down trees to create blockades in some areas, and some workers have “been intimidated and forced to withdraw” from the worksite, said the oil company. This has prevented Ecopetrol personnel from properly controlling the damage, which has added to the potential risk of oil spills to the environment.
The company said that the demonstrators are protesting its application of a 2016 hiring practices law that requires certain provisions in terms of employing local labor.
Ecopetrol is encouraging those with grievances to voice their concerns in a dialogue with the company and local public officials rather than resorting to destructive demonstrations. “Ecopetrol denounces and rejects intimidation against workers, sabotage to facilities, and blockades,” the company said in a statement.
This is the second large disturbance the company has faced this week. In a protest that began last weekend on May 12, according to Ecopetrol, locals in the department of Meta reportedly set a vehicle on fire, damaged a drill, and caused an oil spill by opening well valves.
The situation grew more dire on Monday, May 15, when “hooded men” in the town of El Triunfo entered a company facility then “threatened and urged the workers on duty to leave the location and abandon the operation,” said Ecopetrol in a statement.
Others attacked a helicopter trying to land nearby and threw rocks and “incendiary devices” at workers who were attempting to make repairs to previously damaged property.
The oil spill created by the well damage, which threatened the nearby Orotoy River, “could not be controlled, because the protesters prevented the entrance of the crews,” said Ecopetrol on Monday. At least 92 wells in the area were shut down as the company tried to manage the situation.