BOGOTA (Reuters) - Canada’s Pacific Rubiales threatened to suspend operations at its Campo Rubiales oil fields if the Colombian government fails improve protection from illegal armed groups and violent protests.
Pacific Rubiales has not stopped production but could decide to close fields that produce 240,000 barrels per day “at any moment,” Federico Restrepo, vice president of corporate affairs, told a news conference on Monday.
Masked protesters forced their way into housing for workers on Monday and set it on fire, Restrepo said.
The purported attack coincided with a strike by some 4,000 Colombian workers who renewed a work stoppage on Monday against Pacific Rubiales, staging a peaceful demonstration.
The company did not link the violence to the striking workers, but it also described a wider climate of insecurity because of heavily armed criminal gangs operating nearby in the eastern province of Meta.
“We are again the victim of violent attacks against our infrastructure, putting at risk the physical integrity of our workers,” Restrepo said.
Pacific Rubiales produces 240,000 barrels per day from the Campo Rubiales and nearby Quifa fields in conjunction with state-controlled oil company Ecopetrol, a minority partner.
Similar protests in September grew militant, cutting off highways and shutting down production.
The USO labor union behind the protest accused the company of exaggerating the dangers on Monday, saying it was a tactic to counter the strike.
“They are creating a media circus,” USO President Rodolfo Vecino said.
The demonstrations last month forced Pacific Rubiales to declare force majeure and pushed Colombia’s September crude output down 6.4 percent from August.
Workers said they called the latest strike when the company withdrew from negotiations over a salary increase and working conditions.
The oil boom in Colombia was largely possible after the army opened swathes of territory to foreign investors with a military offensive against leftist guerrillas starting in 2002. Since then, drug-funded criminal gangs and guerrillas have targeted company installations and workers.
Colombia is the fourth-largest oil producer in Latin America behind Venezuela, Mexico and Brazil.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Helen Murphy; Writing by Daniel Trotta