Protests close Canadian firm’s Colombian oilfields

BOGOTA — Violent protests by hundreds of employees have forced the Canadian-Colombian firm Pacific Rubiales to shut down operations at its two largest Colombian oilfields, the company’s vice-president said.

“At the moment production at the Rubiales and Quifa fields is shut down. We have halted the production of 225,000 barrels a day,” equivalent to 25 per cent of the firm’s total Colombian production, Camilo Valencia said Tuesday.

Valencia insisted that the demonstrations, which began on Sunday, were not a labour strike but “an unjustified and hostile takeover of our facilities.”

Pacific Rubiales, which operates the two fields in the central Meta department along with state-owned Ecopetrol, said around 300 contract employees had burned tents and other equipment, sabotaged pipelines and blocked roads.

Federico Restrepo, another company vice-president, expressed shock at the demonstrations, saying the company had held talks in July with workers and government representatives.

“We see a very complex situation that has no justification because we are at the table of social dialogue with the government’s support,” he said.

The country’s main oil workers union said the riots were sparked by the intervention of riot police during a “peaceful protest” by contract workers who were demanding the same wages as regular employees.

“The situation is worrying,” union leader Hector Vaca said, adding that some 4,500 Pacific Rubiales contract employees are affiliated with the union.

Pacific Rubiales is a public company listed on the Toronto and Colombian stock exchanges.

Its website says it is the largest independent oil and gas exploration and production company in Colombia.

Its Canadian office is located in Toronto.

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