BOGOTA, May 15 (Reuters) - Colombia’s state oil company Ecopetrol on Monday said it reduced output in one of its key production areas due to protests by residents who reject changes to the company’s hiring policy for local labor.
The protest forced the closure of 92 wells producing about 10,000 barrels of oil daily near the municipality of Acacias, in central Meta province, and affected the Castilla and Chichimene fields.
“The valves of several wells were opened, which resulted in a crude spill that could not be controlled because demonstrators prevented access by emergency crews,” Ecopetrol said in a statement.
The company also condemned the torching of a vehicle, threats to workers and acts that prevented a supply helicopter landing to leave food at one of the oil fields.
The government issued a decree that allows Ecopetrol to hire workers from anywhere in the municipality of Acacias, while protesters want jobs given only to residents in the area immediately next to the fields.
Social protests, legal insecurity and guerrilla attacks are frequent headaches for oil companies in Colombia. They have also faced a sharp drop in oil prices in recent years.
Ecopetrol is the largest producer of crude in Colombia, pumping 712,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day at the end of the first quarter. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)