October 22, 2014 / 8:54 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-Colombia could lower oil price projections for 2015, 2016

(Adds additional quotes from finance minister)

BOGOTA, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Colombia may revise down its projections for the price of oil in 2015 and 2016, Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said on Wednesday, feeding concerns that the economy will face further revenue shortfalls because of falling crude output.

The government has struggled this year to boost cash flow from the oil sector after a drop in global crude oil prices and debilitating attacks by Marxist guerrilla groups that have damaged pipelines and slowed transport in areas where rebels have a presence.

Meanwhile, the country’s congress is discussing a tax reform aimed at extending two duties that were scheduled to expire this year as a way to make up for the decline in oil earnings, responsible for about one fifth of government revenue.

“Today we are at a price of $86 per barrel,” Cardenas said during a congressional debate on oil royalties. “Knowing the current level, it would not be out of line to think that we will have to lower prices a bit, not just for 2015 but for 2016.”

The Finance Ministry has budgeted for an average oil price of $98 per barrel for 2015 and $99 per barrel for 2016.

“The reduction in oil prices does not take us by surprise, we know the volatilities and the cycle,” Cardenas told journalists. “We’re prepared.”

“Obviously we hope that the prices have a floor of $80 - which is what it costs to produce oil in the most remote areas,” the minister added.

Production this year should be around 980,000 barrels per day (bpd) and the government projects 1.029 million bpd in 2015 and 1.094 million bpd in 2016.

The oil industry is the Andean country’s biggest exporter and source of foreign exchange in its $380 billion economy.

Despite the decline in revenue, the sector will continue to be a key engine of economic growth, Energy Minister Tomas Gonzalez told Reuters in a recent interview.

State-run oil company Ecopetrol is a major producer but the sector also attracts hefty foreign investment from companies such as Canada’s Pacific Rubiales and U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Reporting by Carlos Vargas; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by James Dalgleish and Diane Craft)

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