Colombia's Ecopetrol says oil theft from pipelines rose 46% last year

By Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Theft of crude oil from pipelines operated by Colombia's state-controlled oil company Ecopetrol ECO.CN rose by 46% last year, driven by surging robberies along the Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline, a company spokesman said.

On average, 2,638 barrels per day of oil were stolen last year, up from 1,806 bpd in 2019, the spokesman said. The theft represents a fraction of Ecopetrol's production, which stood at 725,000 bpd in 2019.

The stolen oil was worth just under $50 million, based on the volume-weighted average for global benchmark Brent LCOc1 in 2020 of $51.37 a barrel, according to Eikon.

However, Ecopetrol warned in September that oil and fuel theft was putting communities and the environment at risk as the methods used to tap the pipelines can result in spills affecting soil, bodies of water, animals and plants.

Ecopetrol, which produces the lion's share of Colombia's oil output, did not immediately respond to questions about reasons for the increase in theft of its crude.

The pipelines are operated by Ecopetrol's wholly-owned subsidiary, Cenit.

Theft of refined fuels from pipelines fell to 18 bpd in 2020, down from 37 bpd in the prior year, the spokesman said.

Most of the crude oil was stolen from the 480-mile (773-km) Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline, which runs across the north of the country.

An average of 1,902 bpd of oil was stolen from Cano Limon-Covenas in 2020 - the highest level in at least five years - up from 1,044 bpd in 2019.

Ecopetrol works alongside Colombia's armed forces, police, and regional authorities to fight theft of oil and fuels.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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