BOGOTA (Reuters) – Protesters battled riot police with rocks and homemade bombs on Thursday in a protest against Colombia’s fourth-largest oil producer, Petrominerales Ltd, forcing the Canadian firm to suspend output.
Burned cars and tires littered a street as police used tear gas to quell demonstrators who threw rocks and small explosives, local TV footage showed.
Protesters earlier this week started blocking roads near Petrominerales’ Corcel and Guatiquia fields in Meta department, one of Colombia’s most important oil regions.
After meeting with government officials in Bogota, community leaders said they would ask the protesters to end the roadblocks, and agreed to meet again with government officials and Petrominerales on Tuesday to discuss their complaints.
Ruben Cano, vice president of logistics for Petrominerales, said that output at the fields had been stopped since midnight on Wednesday with around 15,000 bpd shut-in.
“Once the blockades are lifted, it’s going to take some time because there were damages to the street…. It could take two to three days while the wells are restarted,” he told journalists after the meeting.
Protests against petroleum and mining companies are common in Latin America’s No. 4 oil producer, with local communities seeking jobs or compensation for damages, and workers complaining about work conditions and pay.
Colombia has been rocked by a handful of protests at oil companies operating in the Meta province this year, which usually halt production for a few days. Exports are generally not substantially impacted due to stocks at ports.
Isnardo Lozano Gomez, secretary general at the USO oil workers union, said local communities were protesting over environmental damage in the area, the need for locals in the firm’s labor force, and the lack of social investment.
“Today this confrontation and manpower in the area … has increased substantially, and the community at this time is being subject to a brutal aggression by (anti-riot police),” he told Reuters by telephone.
Petrominerales — which is one of many Canadian explorers and producers in the country — produces around 40,000 bpd from all its fields.
In mid-August, protesters blocked access to a major oil field run by Pacific Rubiales, also in Meta.
Colombia has seen billions of dollars in foreign direct investment since 2002 when a U.S.-backed offensive beat back rebels to remoter regions of the Andean country and opened up new areas to investment, especially in oil and mining.
Better security and fiscal terms in the South American country have helped push Colombian national oil production to historic highs and have put it on track to produce 1 million bpd by the end of 2011.