BOGOTÁ, Colombia – The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have carried out at least 40 attacks on oil pipelines nationwide this year, according to the Ministry of Mining and Energy.
“The image is repeated in many departments; from Nariño to Putumayo, along with Guajira and others,” said Gustavo Wilches, a Colombian environmentalist. “The FARC attack the oil pipelines causing millions in financial losses and severe damages to the environment, harming, as always, the civilian population.”
The attacks included 13 in which explosives were used to blast pipelines, forcing companies to stop pumping as oil spewed, causing serious damage to the environment.
Last October, a section of the Trans-Andean pipeline, which is 189 miles long and carries an average of 45,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the department of Putumayo to Colombia’s Pacific coast, sustained a blast that led to the spillage of 5,000 barrels.
The Caño Limón–Coveñas oil pipeline, one of the country’s most important pipelines, has spilled more than a million barrels of oil since 1996 as a result of FARC attacks, according to a report by the Colombian Ombudsman.
The report stresses from 1986 to 1996 – a decade marred by FARC terrorist attacks against the oil industry – 636 pipelines were blasted.
Juan Carlos Pinzón, the country’s defense minister, said in October the government’s investment in technological equipment and weaponry gives his ministry the resources to increase security around pipelines nationwide.
“We have two major problems in Colombia with regard to the exploitation of our soil,” President Juan Manuel Santos said. “First is illegal mining, because it is largely controlled by groups outside the law, and it is an important and growing source of financing. Second are the terrorist acts by the FARC against the oil pipelines in our country. These attacks indicate the FARC have no intention of negotiating peacefully. Their actions show all they want to do is damage the Colombian environment and affect the industry.”
The Ministry of Defense reported the government uses about 80,000 soldiers – about 30% of its troops overall – to defend mining and energy infrastructure nationwide.
The FARC’s attacks on pipelines are occurring at a time when the oil industry is thriving. Oil production in the Andean nation reached 965,000 barrels daily in November, a 17.53% increase compared to the same month in 2010, according to the Mining and Energy Ministry.
Armando Zamora, general director of the National Hydrocarbon Agency (ANH), said FARC attacks are preventing the country’s oil sector from reaching its potential on a global scale.
“Colombia has more than 100 companies from different parts of the world involved in oil exploration and production, which has made the country into a model for Latin America,” Zamora said on ANH’s website. “However, the terrorist acts are causing high costs to the state, to Colombians and to the environment.”
A total of US$4 billion in foreign investment is expected to be pumped into the oil sector this year – about US$1 billion more than in 2010 – according to the Mining Energy Planning Unit (UPME).
By the end of this year, Colombia will have produced one million barrels per day, UPME reported.
But terrorist attacks on the pipelines have caused long-lasting damage to the environment, including polluted water and less land to grow crops, forcing residents to become displaced, Wilches said.
he said. “This forces many residents in rural communities to move, or it forces them to buy water or fertilizer for their land, which increases their expenses.”
Wilches said the FARC’s attacks on pipelines have devastated the Andean nation.
“They are environmental crimes,” he added. “Because of [the FARC’s] 1986 to 1996 wave of attacks, they have aged our country practically 50 years.”
Santos agreed with Wilches.
“The FARC is one of the groups who contribute the most to polluting our country and therefore the whole continent,” Santos said. “Their acts against the oil industry just add to the long list of irreparable offenses they’ve committed against our country.”
Adrián Serrano, political analyst at the Universidad de los Andes, said the FARC use their attacks as a way to protest foreign companies’ involvement in Colombia’s oil sector.
“The FARC fervently believe in not allowing foreign companies to exploit Colombian soil,” he said. “That is why they attack the industry as a whole, from the multinational companies with business in Colombia, to the traditional oil companies such as Ecopetrol.”
Serrano added that in departments such as Arauca and Putumayo, the FARC share territory with other criminal and terrorist groups, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN).
“Therefore, there is a clear struggle for power over territory, and many times the attacks carried out in this area serve to let the other terrorist group know who controls the area,” he said.
But Rafael Rodríguez, an international consultant on environmental policies, said it doesn’t matter who commits the crime because the victim is the same: the environment.
“Cutting down trees to grow coca, thousands of gallons [of oil] spilled over our land – all of this has turned these groups into a threat to the environment,” he said. “Cutting down just one tree means to wait at least 20 to 30 years to get it back. These groups cut down acres of trees. Some say that these groups have aged the Colombian environment by 50 years already, but I think it’s a lot more than that. If we add this to the environmental repercussions of having to rehabilitate the land, the animals and the crops after an oil spill, we’re talking about immeasurable losses.”