Ecopetrol: Peaceful Growth

Courtesy of The Financial Times, a detailed look at Ecopetrol:

Never mind its recent fall in profits. Many energy companies would drool at Ecopetrol’s impressive growth rate so far.

Since 2008, Colombia’s state-controlled oil company has increased production at a rate of 16 per cent a year. “We are focused on sustaining this growth rate, which is not easy to do,” Javier Gutiérrez, Ecopetrol’s chief executive, told beyondbrics.

It may well not be easy but Gutiérrez feels comfortable that his company will reach its target of 780,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day by the end of the year, which means Ecopetrol would have almost doubled production in the past five years. With an $80bn investment plan already in place, Gutiérrez plans to bring that number to 1.3 boe/d in 2020.

Ecopetrol contributes more than 70 per cent of Colombia’s overall production, making it one of the region’s top performers after Brazil’s Petrobras, Venezuela’s PDVSA, and Mexico’s Pemex.

“Since Ecopetrol was taken out of the fiscal accounts things have radically changed. Back in 2007 the government chose to democratise the company, so now we don’t have to ask the Colombian state what we can or can’t do anymore,” Gutiérrez says.

Nevertheless, the Colombian government still holds 88.5 per cent of the company. It has about half a million minority shareholders, mostly “middle-class Colombians, betting for a Colombian company, which is the beauty of it.”

Ecopetrol’s shares are also traded in Toronto and New York, where the number of investors is smaller but trading volume is much bigger than in Bogotá – between $20m and $30m a day.

Witness to that is Ecopetrol’s market value, which has risen more than fourfold since its initial public offering in Bogotá in 2007, and in New York a year later. In May this year it briefly surpassed that of Petrobras.

The journey has not been a smooth one, though. According to Gutiérrez, Ecopetrol suffered more than 60 attacks on oil infrastructure from rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the National Liberation Army, or ELN, since September last year. The blasts cost the company about 1.2 per cent of its production.

“We have invested a lot in security, particularly preventive security partnering with the armed forces and the local communities,” he says. Violence has waned since the government officially announced the start of peace negotiations last month. “Peace would help a lot,” he says.

In the past ten years, liberalisation of Colombia’s oil sector and the relative cooling of the armed conflict have attracted hordes of foreign investors, many of them now partnering with Ecopetrol.

“Colombia is now attractive not only because of Ecopetrol,” Gutiérrez emphasises. Yet for him the Ecopetrol model works as a reflection of the country in terms of clear rules that safeguard investments.

“Unlike Pemex, PDVSA or Petrobras in their respective countries, Ecopetrol in Colombia is just like any other company competing for a share of the market. The government has no special powers,” he says.

Colombia is the market he is mostly focused on right now. After forming joint ventures in Brazil with Petrobras and Anadarko and in the Gulf of Mexico with BP and Statoil to diversify its portfolio, Gutiérrez feels there is no urgent need for more overseas ventures.

“There are still a lot of areas to develop here. Geologists are talking about areas could not access before, such as Putumayo, Caguán,” he says. Indeed, part of Ecopetrol’s strategy has been to tap fields discovered years ago, that are now accessible after a crackdown that has put insurgents on the back foot.

Gutiérrez has also managed to bring in partners to explore offshore in the Caribbean basin in partnership with Anadarko and Petrobras.

On top of that, Colombia’s vast deposits of shale oil and gas, especially in the Middle Magdalena basin -which have some compared to the vast Vaca Muerta reservoir in Argentina – have seduced others such as Exxon to join forces with Ecopetrol

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 at 5:22 pm and is filed under Colombia, Ecopetrol.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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Wildcats & Black Sheep is a personal interest blog dedicated to the identification and evaluation of maverick investment opportunities arising in frontier - and, what some may consider to be, “rogue” or “black sheep” - markets around the world.

Focusing primarily on The New Seven Sisters - the largely state owned petroleum companies from the emerging world that have become key players in the oil & gas industry as identified by Carola Hoyos, Chief Energy Correspondent for The Financial Times - but spanning other nascent opportunities around the globe that may hold potential in the years ahead, Wildcats & Black Sheep is a place for the adventurous to contemplate & evaluate the emerging markets of tomorrow.