Colombia achieved oil self-sufficiency for the first time in the early 1970s, only to require imports again by 1976. Despite low international prices during most of the 1980s, Colombia continued with exploration and reattained self-sufficiency in 1986. At that time, analysts believed that known reserves would provide for selfsufficiency until 1994. The government sought to extend this period by encouraging joint ventures between public agencies and private drilling companies. Estimates of total reserves as of late 1986 ranged as high as 1.9 million barrels. Analysts believed that the eastern plains (llanos) held 59 percent of these reserves and that 38 percent was located in the department of Magdalena in northern Colombia. The intendancy of Putumayo in southwestern Colombia and the department of Norte de Santander in northeastern Colombia were thought to hold the remaining 3 percent.
Through 1987 crude oil production increased each year in the 1980s, reaching 400,000 barrels per day by 1987. The largest field, Cravo Norte, produced 150,000 barrels per day in 1986 and accounted for most of the increased output for that year, allowing Colombia to become an oil exporter again. Secondary recovery methods in the older oil fields, some of which dated back to 1918, enhanced production. Crude exports reached 16.5 million barrels in 1986; industry analysts speculated that they would triple in 1987.
In 1986 there were 3,658 oil wells in Colombia, 2,770 of which were producing. Although the majority belonged to Ecopetrol, many of the newer projects were joint ventures with private foreign firms. The quality of oil varied from very heavy, sludge-like crude, used only for asphalt and related products, to very light, high-quality crude that was easily refined into gasoline and other fuel products.
Colombia had four refineries producing for domestic and export markets. In 1987 two refineries--located in Barrancabermeja and Cartagena--accounted for virtually all of Colombia's crude oil distillation capacity of 226,000 barrels per day (bpd). The Barrancabermeja plant was new and was considered among the most sophisticated and productive refineries in the world, capable of processing 150,000 bpd. The Cartagena plant had a refining capacity of 70,000 bpd. Two other refineries--the Norte de Santander and Putumayo refineries--had a combined capacity of only 6,000 bpd.
Besides production and refinery capacity, Colombia boasted more than 8,300 kilometers of oil pipeline in 1987. This network connected producing areas in the eastern plains, including Cravo Norte, to the Barrancabermeja refinery. After the pipeline network suffered continued attack from guerrilla groups in the late 1980s, Ecopetrol assumed control of all pipeline operations.
Oil fields also produced natural gas, which was used to help Colombia meet its goal of energy self-sufficiency. Reserves were estimated at 1.3 trillion cubic meters in 1986, most of which was located in La Guajira Department. A total of 4.1 billion cubic meters was marketed in 1986, primarily as an alternative energy source to oil.
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