Caño Limón–Coveñas Oil Pipeline

From Global Energy Monitor
This article is part of the Global Fossil Infrastructure Tracker, a project of Global Energy Monitor.

Caño Limón–Coveñas Oil Pipeline, known locally as Oleoducto Caño Limón–Coveñas or by its Spanish initials OCC, is an oil pipeline in Colombia.[1]


The pipeline runs from Arauca to Coveñas, Colombia.

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Project Details

  • Operator: Cenit SAS[2][3][4]
  • Owner: Cenit SAS[2][3][5]
  • Parent company: Ecopetrol SA (100%)[5]
  • Capacity: 251,000 barrels per day[5]
  • Length: 774 kilometers[5]
  • Diameter:
    • Caño Limón-Banadía segment: 18 inches[3]
    • Banadía-Ayacucho segment: 18, 20, 24 inches[3]
    • Ayacucho-Coveñas segment: 24 inches[3]
  • Oil source: Caño Limón Oil Field, Colombia
  • Status: Operating
  • Start Year: 1986


Built in 1986 by a subsidiary of the American firm Occidental Petroleum Company, OxyCol, the 771km Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline has been operated by Ecopetrol (through its subsidiary Cenit) since 2011. Over 30 years, the pipeline has transported over 1.5 billion barrels of oil. The line runs from Vereda La Osa, Arauca, at the Colombia-Venezuela border to Colombia's Caribbean port of Coveñas. The pipeline runs through 33 municipalities and five pumping stations in the Colombian departments of Arauca, Boyacá, Norte de Santander, Cesar, Magdalena, Sucre, and Bolívar.[6][7]

Attacks, Opposition, and Oil Spills

The pipeline has sustained hundreds of attacks during the decades-long struggle between the Colombian government and right-wing paramilitary groups on one side, and guerrilla militants from organizations such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) on the other. The intensity of the political and military confrontations increased dramatically in the 90s, and regular attacks have continued ever since.[8][9][10][11]

The FARC and ELN have targeted energy production and transportation in Colombia in their struggle with the Colombian government over the last six decades, seeking to damage the country's economy as a key military strategy, in part to protest the exploitation of Colombian resources by foreign companies.[12] The attacks have mostly occurred in the first 110 miles of the pipeline, which crosses extremely volatile territory due to the heavy presence of rebel groups. In its first year of operation in 1986, the pipeline underwent an attack shortly after its inauguration. It would be the first of 18 attacks that year, and foreshadowed the numerous attacks which would follow in the upcoming decades.[13] By 2003, the pipeline had been attacked over 900 times.[14] The Caño Limón–Coveñas Oil Pipeline itself was attacked 170 times in 2001, 41 times in in 2002, 34 in 2003, and 17 times in 2004. The attacks resulted in shutdowns and losses $500 million in oil revenues and royalties.[11] By 2015, the pipeline would have been hit 1,317 times, an average of one attack per week.[13]

According to some estimates, these attacks amidst the civil war have resulted in over 3 million barrels of oil being spilled, contaminating soil and countless waterways.[15] Colombia's state oil company, Ecopetrol, estimates that as many as 66 million gallons of oil, equivalent to ~1.5 million barrels of oil, have spilled from the pipeline since 2000 alone. Since 1986, attacks against the pipeline have left 751 victims over the last 17 years, including 167 deaths. Since 1986 the pipeline has been out of service 3,800 days, or 10.4 years, 30 percent of its life.[16]

Since 2012, a number of bombs have been set off, which have left the pipeline on standby on several occasions. Amylkar Acosta, Colombia's Minister of Energy and Mines, revealed in an interview that an average of 35,000b/d was not exported during 2013 because of halted operations stemming from attacks by the rebel group ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional). Beyond the impact on export volumes, the attacks have led to spills that have polluted drinking water.[6]

As of 2017, peace agreements had been reached with the FARC, while talks of peace with the ELN were ongoing.[17] However, attacks on the pipeline continued. By April 2017, 31 attacks on the pipeline had been recorded, leading to shutdowns amounting to 46 days in March and April alone.[18] In April 2017, the pipeline was bombed, leading to a spill which threatened the nearby Cimitarra stream which feeds into the waterways supplying 3,500 locals with drinking water.[19] In June 2017, another attack caused a temporary shutdown.[20] In August 2017, there was yet another attack in rural El Carmen municipality in Norte de Santander province, near the border with Venezuela, causing spillage of crude into a nearby river.[16] The pipeline was attacked more than 80 times in 2018 and as a result was kept offline for most of the year.[21] In February 2019 an attack near Teorama in the Norte de Santander province created an environmental emergency along the Catatumbo river.[21]

In 2019 overall, there were 42 attacks on the pipeline. Another 8 attacks were reported in the first six weeks of 2020, including a February attack involving explosives that caused a fire and contaminated two rivers and a creek near Toledo (Norte de Santander department).[8] Regular attacks on the pipeline continued through 2020, with repairs to the pipeline made more difficult by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.[9][10] A total of 29 attacks were recorded in 2020.[22]

In January 2021, there was an attack with explosions on the pipeline.[23] Soon after, in March 2021 the pipeline was attacked by explosives when the pipeline was stopped for repairs.[24] The extensive attacks on the pipeline have caused fires and polluted water supplies.[24]

Saldana V. Occidental Petroleum

During the George W Bush administration, American foreign policy towards Colombia shifted away from the so-called war on drugs towards the security of Colombia's energy resources. The Caño Limón–Coveñas Oil Pipeline was a focal point for the new policy, which sent special forces to the country starting in 2002 to train and assist the Colombian government in protecting the pipeline from insurgents.[25] Starting in fiscal year 2002, the United States provided about $99 million in equipment and training to the Colombian Army to minimize terrorist attacks along the first 110 miles of the pipeline, mostly in Arauca department. U.S. Special Forces provided training and equipment to about 1,600 Colombian Army soldiers and supplied helicopters to the Colombian government's anti-insurgent efforts.[26]

The intensive militarization funded by U.S. aid set the stage for a lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum.[12] In 2011, family members of three union members killed by the Colombian National Army’s (“CNA”) 18th Brigade brought a lawsuit in Los Angeles, California, where Occidental has its headquarters. The plaintiffs contended that the company should be held liable for the 18th Brigade's actions under the Alien Tort Statute, and the rest under California tort law, on the grounds that Occidental Petroleum was in part funding the 18th Brigade to guard its pipeline interests via its Colombian subsidiary, Occidental de Colombia, Inc. (“OxyCol”). According to the plaintiffs, OxyCol agreed to supplement the United States' military aid to the 18th Brigade with $6.3 million from its own joint account with Colombia's largest oil company, Ecopetrol.[12]

However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the complaint, ruling that it "raised non-justiciable political questions, thus depriving the courts of jurisdiction to entertain it." The district court concluded that plaintiffs’ claims "were inextricably bound to the inherently political question of the propriety of the United States’ decision to provide $99 million worth of training to the 18th Brigade at the same time and for the same purpose as Occidental allegedly providing $6.3 million."[12]

Articles and resources


  1. Caño Limón–Coveñas Oil Pipeline, Wikipedia, accessed September 2017
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Oleoductos - Cenit". Cenit. Retrieved 2023-03-04.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "D&E-CRUDOS-MME-481-2017 (pp 34-35)" (PDF). Ministerio de Minas y Energía. December 18, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. "Mapa de infraestructura petrolera en Colombia" (PDF). Cenit Transporte y Logística de Hidrocarburos. Retrieved 2023-03-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Ecopetrol S.A. 2021 Form 20-F (pp 48, 65, 99)". US Securities & Exchange Commission. April 25, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Caño Limón-Coveñas Pipeline, BNamericas, accessed October 2017
  7. Loren Moss, Caño Limon Covenas Oil Pipeline Achieves 30 Year Operational Milestone, Finance Colombia, December 15, 2015
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Oleoducto colombiano Caño Limón-Coveñas suspende bombeo por ataque explosivo". Infobae. February 12, 2020.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Ecopetrol unit condemns attacks against oil pipelines in Colombia". Reuters. May 5, 2020.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Cenit Activates Contingency Plans Due To Series of Pipeline Attacks This Week". Finance Colombia. June 8, 2020.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Connie Veillette, Plan Colombia: A Progress Report, CRS Report for Congress, June 22, 2005
  13. 13.0 13.1 Alfonso Cuéllar, Oil and Peace in Colombia:Industry Challenges in the Post-War Period, Wilson Center, January 2016
  14. Nicole Elana Karsin, Series of blasts shatters short-lived Colombian peace / Violence linked to a backlash over oil pipeline, SF Gate, February 12, 2003
  15. Colombia Pipeline, Living on Earth, accessed October 2017
  16. 16.0 16.1 Colombia halts Cano-Limon pipeline after rebel attack, Reuters, August 28,2017
  17. Colombia: Peace talks with ELN rebel group begin, BBC, February 8, 2017
  18. Colombia's Ecopetrol halts Cano Limon pipeline after attack, Reuters, April 27, 2017
  19. Attack on Caño Limón-Coveñas Pipeline Causes Oil Spill and ‘Environmental Emergency’ in Norte de Santander, Says Ecopetrol, Finance Colombia, April 27, 2017
  20. Carl Surran, Bomb attack halts Colombia’s Cano Limon crude oil pipeline, Seeking Alpha, June 21, 2017
  21. 21.0 21.1 ‘ELN attack’ on oil pipeline causes environmental disaster in northeast Colombia, Columbia Reports, Feb. 15, 2019
  22. "Oleoducto colombiano Caño Limón-Coveñas suspende bombeo por ataque explosivo". Reuters. January 22, 2021.
  23. Reuters Staff. "Oleoducto colombiano Caño Limón-Coveñas suspende bombeo por ataque explosivo". U.S. Retrieved 2021-06-17. {{cite news}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  24. 24.0 24.1 Symmes Cobb, Julia (March 5, 2021). "Colombia's Cano Limon pipeline hit by bomb attack". Nasdaq.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. Juan Forero, New Role for U.S. in Colombia: Protecting a Vital Oil Pipeline, New York Times, October 4, 2002
  26. Efforts to Secure Colombia's Cano Limon-Covenas Oil Pipeline Have Reduced Attacks, but Challenges Remain, U.S. Government Accountability Office, October 6, 2005

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