Colombia's state-run oil company Ecopetrol Sunday suspended crude production in oil-rich southwest Catatumbo, a region of Norte de Santander state, following violent clashes between farmers and security forces in the town of Tibu, a company source said.
Harold Paez, the superintendent of operations in the region, said 90 percent of pumping and extraction operations had been suspended due to the disturbance and some 80 workers had to be evacuated. He estimated the losses to be about 1,500 barrels of crude a day.
"At this time, we have not been able to carry out our operations, we are already practically shutting down all our wells ... and we have had to airlift our personnel out of the industrial zone in Tibu," he said.
More than 3,000 farmers in Catatumbo have clashed with police forces sent to eradicate illegal coca crops in the area. As a crop substitution program has not been implemented, there is no way for the farmers to maintain their families.
Paez expressed his concern that oil spills from the confrontations had caused an environmental emergency in the area.
"We have been notified that two wells have been seriously affected by fire," and a crude pipeline was perforated, causing oil spillover.
Paez said he requested security reinforcements for as long as the clashes continue, but added he was confident the two sides could sit down to negotiate a settlement before Ecopetrol can resume production in the area.
Over the past few hours, the protestors submitted a document to the government, calling for a dialogue to resolve the conflict affecting the town.
The army, meanwhile, said it carried out a plan in Tibu to eradicate approximately 15 hectares of coca plants, which the government claims belong to the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
According to the National Hydrocarbons Agency, Catatumbo is the region that has in the past year contributed the most to boosting Colombia's crude reserves, supplying some 31 million barrels.