The first two decades of the company


On the De Mares Concession to Ecopetrol

The proximity of the reversion of the De Mares Concession to the State to be administered by Ecopetrol served as a trigger to conduct diagnostic exercises on the oil industry (including oil, natural gas and their derivatives) in Colombia. The businesses of production, refining and transportation took a clean sweep of the attention of analysts at the time, who had the assistance of foreign oil experts. As part of the studies contracted with Foster Wheeler Corporation for the design and construction of refineries, Western Geophysical International conducted studies on the amount of reserves and their ability to supply domestic consumption in the future, while McGraw Hill International put together projections of oil consumption through to 1965 (Mendoza, 1950a).2On Ecopetrol’s technological learning throughout its history, please consult the chapter by Forero and Dávila in this volume.

 


 

Production

In the mid-twentieth century, oil production was obtained from the commercial exploitation of properties given in concession. The most significant concessions in terms of production were those of De Mares, Barco and Yondó, which together represented over 90% of crude oil production (see Tables 1 and 2. p. opposite). As the exploitation of the Barco Concession began in 1939, oil production prior to that year corresponded exclusively to that produced by the De Mares Concession, as shown in Table 2 (p. opposite). The De Mares Concession derived its production from four reservoirs, namely Infantas (1916), La Cira (1926), Colorado (1945) and Galán (1945).3The dates in brackets are those of the discovery of the respective reservoir  The good moment for exploration activity in Infantas, in 1922, was reflected in the production statistics. Similarly, the discovery of La Cira in 1925 and the commissioning of the oil pipeline of the Andian National Corporation in 1926, as will be seen below, led to a further substantial increase in production in this latter year. The growth and collapse of the economy between the late twenties and early thirties, in keeping with the great international depression, was also ref lected in the rise and subsequent stagnation and decline in the production of De Mares.

 

Calculations made in 1950 showed that by then about 2,100 oil wells had been drilled in Colombia, of which 1373 were drilled in the territory of the De Mares Concession; of the latter, 1,066 were active and 307 were closed. In total, for that date (June 1950), 396,650,000 barrels had been obtained from the De Mares Concession, of which 60% originated in La Cira, and approximately 39% in Infantas.4Data provided by Ospina Racines(1950: 5).

 

  • Table 1. Concessions and owners 1951 (July)
  • Table 2. Oil Total Production by concessions (Thousands of barrels, 1940-1950)
  • Table 3. Barrancabermeja refinery. Louds and products (Net Thousands of barrels of 42 galons)
  • Table 4. Colombian oil industry: Companies and business (1952)
  • Table 5. Colombian oil industry. Producing fields, reserves and total barrels produced (hectares and barrels of oil, 1952)
  • Table 6. De Mares Concession and Ecopetrol. Production forecasts vs. effective production (Thousands of barrels for day, 1951-1954)
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Refining

The contracts for the De Mares and Barco concession required the construction of refineries on the part of the concessionaires. Thus, the oil industry had two refining units, namely, that of Barrancabermeja, installed by the Tropical Oil Company in the early twenties, and that of La Petrólea, installed in the region of Catatumbo (in future township and subsequent municipality of Tibú) by the Colombian Petroleum Company in the late thirties.

 

It wasn’t only the production fields that were part of the De Mares Concession, but also the Barrancabermeja refinery and a natural gas plant. In the concession contract entered into with the Government, the Tropical Oil Company undertook to build a refining plant within two years following the approval of the transfer (1919); said plant had to have sufficient capacity to meet domestic consumption. In compliance with the contract, by 1921 the company had set up a distillation unit whose capacity was 10 thousand barrels per day, an amount considered sufficient for domestic supply.5The unit mentioned was a battery of horizontal stills for the simple distillation of crude oil, in order to produce motor gasoline, oil for lighting and fuel oil, which were the products in greatest demand at the time.

 

In the mid-thirties, the Tropical Oil Co. set up a new refining unit to produce an additional 13,000 barrels per day, so that the total capacity was increased to 23,000 barrels per day. In expanding the refinery, the company was complying with the contractual terms that required it have enough refining capacity to meet domestic demand. The capacity expansion was accompanied by increases in quality and in the range of products obtained.6Vargas Sierra (1950a) explains the technical features of the new plant.

 


One of several bridges built for exploration of the Yondo Concession, 1942.

 

A decade later, at the end of World War II, refining capacity was overwhelmed by the domestic consumption of derivatives, a difference that began to be served by the company through the import of fuels from Aruba and Peru. By 1950, on the eve of the founding of Ecopetrol, the point had been reached where domestic refining barely met the 55% of demand. For the National Petroleum Council the issue of refining had to be a priority for the new company (National Petroleum Council, 1950). Table 3 (p. 68) presents the refinery’s main supplies and products up to 1949 for selected years: 1922 was the first year of commercial-scale production, and since then fuel oil appears in its dominant position among products with a share close to 70%.

 


Sample taking at the Yondo Concession, 1942.

 

The refinery La Petrólea was installed in 1939 with a capacity to produce 480 barrels per day of gasoline, oil for lighting, and diesel oil;7The refinery had its origins in 1906, a year after the concession contract between the Government and Mr. Virgilio Barco, when the latter established a provisional refinery in Cúcuta. In time, said refinery was moved to the field La Petrólea (Mendoza et al., 1939). Regarding De Barco’s oil business, see the article by Xavier Durán in this volume. in the course of the next decade that capacity was increased so that by 1949 it was 900 barrels per day (Vargas Sierra, 1950a).

 

Refining was a recurring theme in the late forties. The Tropical Oil Co., which was in charge of fuel imports to meet domestic consumption over and above that produced in refineries, proposed an agreement to the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum in 1948 that would expand the Barrancabermeja refinery and also create a new refinery on the Atlantic Coast (National Petroleum Council, 1950). Around the same time, the Foster Wheeler Corp., advising the National Petroleum Council, also proposed the modernization of the Barrancabermeja refinery and building a new refinery in Mamonal.8That of Barrancabermeja would be strengthened with a thermal cracking unit and other innovations; that of Mamonal would start with simple distillation methods, and its initial aim would be to meet the supply of the North Coast and the West of the country. Later, for example, in the second half of the fifties, the Mamonal plant also would be enhanced with units for the production of cracked gasoline (Revista del Petróleo, 1950, August).  In turn, the Development Mission of the World Bank, headed by Lauchlin Currie, supported the initiative to modernize the Barrancabermeja refinery, but dismissed the Mamonal project considering that the Colombian oil reserves did not justify it (Revista del Petróleo, 1950, August).

 

Gas

In 1927, the Tropical Oil Co. began processing the wet natural gas obtained from the oil formations in gas plants installed in El Centro. Two products were obtained from these processes: Liquid gas or commercial propane, and so-called “dry gas”. The dry gas was intended to be used as fuel in the activities of the concession, and as a means of oil recovery in wells. The liquid gas had alternative uses in the Barrancabermeja refinery, before becoming an eventual replacement for traditional household fuel (firewood and charcoal).

In 1947 the Tropical Oil Co. announced its intention to fully enter into commercial propane production at its plants in El Centro, destined for the country’s major cities. For the purpose of taking on the distribution of the new domestic fuel Compañía Colombiana de Gas was created, originally conceived as a private company of mixed capital, foreign and Colombian. At the time of Ecopetrol’s creation, liquid gas production was still well below that considered necessary to supply the urban centers. Thus, the expansion of the gas production capacity became part of the agenda of the new company.9A ccording to Vargas Sierra (1951), at the time of the reversion of the De Mares Concession, in El Centro no more than 150 barrels of liquid gas were produced per day, equivalent to 6,300 gallons or 12,600 kilos per day.

 

Transportation

It was necessary to build pipelines to carry the production of the De Mares and Barco concessions from the oil fields to shipping ports on the Atlantic coast. The Andian National Corporation Ltd., a subsidiary of the International Petroleum Company, in turn a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company, began construction of the pipeline for the De Mares Concession in 1923 and put it into service in 1926; the 540 kilometer line extended from the fields of the concession (El Centro) up to the Mamonal marine terminal near Cartagena.10In In the contract between the Government and the corporation, agreements such as the following stood out: The oil pipeline would be of service to the producers who want to use (common-carrier); no monopoly would be granted to the company; there would be exemption from departmental, municipal and national river transportation taxes; and the term of the business would be of fifty years (Mendoza et al., 1939). Designed to transport 30 thousand barrels per day, the pipe had a diameter of ten and twelve inches, it originally had nine pumping stations and was coupled through the traditional tapping system. At the time of its entry into service it was considered the largest pipeline outside of the United States (Ospina Racines, 1952b). The pipeline was extended in 1927 and then in 1936 to join the Galán reservoir with the Mamonal refinery across 487 kilometers. Then the oil pipeline’s double line was completed (triple in some areas), which was put into operation from 1945, with the characteristic that the two lines could operate jointly or independently over the entire route.

 


Initial works at the area that would later become the Staff neighborhood.

 

The cost of Andian’s oil pipeline was US$ 22 million. In 1927 its original capacity was increased to 52,000 barrels, and by mid-century first to 60,000 and then to 70,000 barrels per day. At Ecopetrol’s inauguration, the pipeline was not only carrying crude oil from the De Mares Concession, but from the Yondó, El Difícil and Cantagallo Concessions (Vargas Sierra, 1952).

 

In the case of the Barco Concession, the pipeline was designed to join the fields of La Petrólea or Tibú with the port of Coveñas, across 421 kilometers and with a capacity to transport 28,000 barrels per day.11In the respective contract, conditions were stipulated such as the following: Duration of 50 years; exemption from national, departmental and municipal taxes; and the right to transfer the concession with government approval (Mendoza et al. 1939).  The work was done by the South American Gulf Oil Company, whose ownership was in the hands of the Texas Co. and the Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., and its cost was of US$ 18 million (Vargas Sierra, 1952). The line was supported by three pumping stations, and consisted of twelve-inch piping which at that time, around 1939-1940, used the welding system instead of tapping. At the time of Ecopetrol’s creation, the two pipelines mentioned were the longest for the transportation of crude oil in South America.

 

Since the enactment of Law 37 of 1931, incentives were established for oil exploration in Llanos Orientales and some companies applied for the concessions in question and began exploration activities. One of the questions of the day was how the oil would be transported to the shipping ports in the event of successful exploration. Among the possible alternatives, building an oil pipeline that would transit through Venezuelan territory to one of its ports was considered, as at the time it was considered that one that crossed from the Llanos to the North Coast lacked economic viability. The initiative met with differing receptions, including that of the National Petroleum Council, which was concerned about the withdrawal of some foreign oil firms from the country in the late forties.12Regarding the National Petroleum Council, see the article by Carlos Caballero in this volume.

 

By mandate of Law 165 of 1948, the National Petroleum Council advanced studies on the De Mares Concession as part of preparations for the creation of Ecopetrol. The support of foreign consultants was used in various areas of the oil industry and the door was opened for receiving initiatives from national and foreign entrepreneurs. In furtherance of this process, International Petroleum Colombia Ltd. made two offers to the Gómez administration in 1950: One for technical assistance to the new company in the operations in El Centro, and the other for management of the Barrancabermeja refinery and supervision of the units to be installed for its expansion. The expansion of the refinery was contracted with the Foster Wheeler Corporation, prior to the reversion of the De Mares Concession in August 1951.

 

Upon Ecopetrol entering the scene in 1951, oil business in Colombia relied on a triple organization formed by International Petroleum (Colombia) Ltd., Esso Colombiana S. A. and the Andian National Corporation, which were affiliates in Colombia of the International Petroleum Company Ltd., a member of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. The impact of the three affiliates would have direct reach during the first two decades of Ecopetrol (Perry, 1956).

 

International Petroleum (Colombia) Ltd., known as Intercol, would retain a large influence over the oil industry for several decades, both in direct exploration as well as technical assistance to Ecopetrol in the production fields of El Centro, and in the operation of the Barrancabermeja refinery, under a contract with Ecopetrol; the latter would sell the oil extracted from the De Mares Concession to Intercol and, and in turn, Intercol would refine part of the product to supply domestic demand and would export the surplus. Esso Colombiana S. A. was organized in late 1949 to assume the distribution business in an increasingly urban economy by buying products from the refinery in Barrancabermeja (such as motor gasoline, aviation gasoline, fuel oil, lubricants and others) and distribute them in the country. To this end, the Esso Colombiana S. A. had a vehicle infrastructure for the land and water transportation of petroleum products, and public service stations. The Andian National Corporation would continue with the operation of a single-pipe oil pipeline built by it in the twenties, which was expanded to a double line in the midforties. In the early fifties Andian would have 18 pumping stations with the capacity to transport potential production increases in the Magdalena valley.

 

Thus, at the start of Ecopetrol’s operations and during its first decades, the complex oil industry operated under the influence of three companies, independently organized to carry out complementary activities, under the guidance of the same parent company, the International Petroleum Company Ltd from Canada.

 

Under the signs of decline in the De Mares Concession

 

The technical reports prior to the reversion of the De Mares Concession described unflattering scenarios. The reports from the Western Geophysical Company and from the McGraw Hill International Company made reference to a concession that was flagging in terms of production, unless new zones were opened up or secondary recovery processes were taken forward. The declining productivity of the wells had already been seen during the last five years (see Table 2, p. 65), yet the projections of the studies were very discouraging.13Analysts at the time thought that in its last years in charge of the Concession, the Tropical Oil Co. had been concerned with only meeting the minimum: “It is not an exaggeration to say that the concession reverted to the Colombian State in precarious conditions, with worn equipment and with very little storage material to continue drilling and production work” (Molina, 1955: 3).  In addition, the overall environment of the oil industry during the two years preceding the reversion had not been very inspiring, with accumulation of news that foreign companies that were previously interested in investing in Colombia had abandoned their projects, and had moved to other countries like Canada and some from the Middle East, whose importance flourished at the end of World War II. 14“The number of companies engaged in search for oil has fallen sharply with temporary or permanent exit of several of these, among which we can mention the Superior Oil Company, Phillips, Gulf, Stanolid and Compañías Unidas. The activity of the remaining companies, Tropical, Shell, Texas, Socony, Richmond and Colombian has declined dramatically. The number of exploration wells drilled in 1949 (only twelve) was far below the normal level that the country needs to improve the chances of increasing its oil assets[…]” (Mendoza, 1950a:4).  In fact, the Government only received six concession proposals from oil companies in 1949 and nine in 1950, compared to the average of 30 applications per year between 1931, when Law 37 was issued, called “the oil law”, and 1951.15In the 20 years mentioned there were 593 requests to the Government for concessions, of which 95 (16%) were accepted, and of these, 72 had to be rescinded (Ospina Racines, 1952b).  Regulatory changes such as Decree 10 of 1950 were designed to restore the interest of foreign capital in the oil business in Colombia.

 

As the first years of the decade passed, it was possible to observe how the company was doing in handling the problems inherited from the De Mares Concession, and in what state the oil businesses were in. In late 1952, after a year of operation, Ecopetrol was already part of the cast of companies engaged in the oil business, with its main activity being production (see Table 4 p. opposite).

 

According to the inventories of the time, the 20 properties leased for exploration reached 885,000 hectares, and the six production properties reached 943,000 hectares (Ospina Racines 1952a: 8). From all of these fields a cumulative figure of 583 million barrels would have been extracted, and it was estimated that the commercially recoverable reserves were around 543 million barrels (see Table 5, p. opposite). Of the 512,000 hectares of the former De Mares Concession, only 7,561 were considered commercially exploitable, and after having produced over 430 million barrels under the Tropical Oil Co. over 30 years, about 130 million barrels remained. Taken simply, the figures helped to encourage a certain pessimism about the future of the industry. In the technical reports made on the brink of the reversion, the projections were certainly bleak; according to them, the production forecast for 1951 would be 23,270 barrels per day, an amount that would decline annually over the next five years, so that by 1955 it would be only 14,930 barrels per day (Molina, 1955). These contexts and forecasts accompanied Ecopetrol’s first forays into the oil business.

 

Exploration


The discouragement that had been experienced in relation to the submission of proposals for concessions in the two years prior to the inauguration of Ecopetrol seemed to have eased by the end of 1951, when the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum received 27 requests (24 from foreign firms), of which it approved 18 (Ospina Racines 1952a). Around this time, Ecopetrol focused its attention on the review of studies on reserves and on improving knowledge of both areas already explored as well as other unexplored areas within the former De Mares Concession. The calculation of reserves under Ecopetrol’s administration that appears on the first line of Table 5 (p. opposite), of 133 million barrels, was obtained by two engineers from Intercol, who were at Ecopetrol’s service at the time: The calculation corresponded to the previously known area of the structures La Cira- Infantas, Galán and Colorado, and to the volume of oil that could be recovered by extraction methods previously applied by the Tropical oil Co. (Ecopetrol, 1955a).16It is not the case that secondary recovery of oil in the country had not been tried until then, in the sense of producing hydrocarbons through artificial restoration of the energy of a reservoir. The first attempts were made by the Tropical Oil Co. in 1946 and in subsequent years through injecting water into the fields of La Cira and Infantas, but the results were not satisfactory(Ecopetrol, 1969).

 

Ecopetrol began regular exploratory drilling activities in 1953 in various parts of the Galán structure, with production sands found in some of them.17After the calculation of reserves at the end of 1952, and at least during its first five years of life, the company did not update the calculations relative to new areas being recognized as productive, and new volumes of crude oil being extracted. According to reports published by the company, at that time there was a lack of technical personnel that could make such updates (Ecopetrol, 1955a).  Around the same time, the company organized its first Department of Exploration Geology, which reviewed the geological conditions of the former De Mares Concession and programmed the identification of wells that could test the oil potential of the Cretaceous formation in the areas of said concession. In addition, it designed seismic study programs in areas that seemed to offer favorable structures for oil accumulation. In order to carry out these efforts the Subsurface Geology section was created within the existing Department of Geology, the corresponding managers were assigned, hiring foreign geologists of recognized experience, and the Seismograph Service Corporation, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was contracted to provide ongoing advice to Ecopetrol in exploration matters.18Geologists Edwin Mohler and Ernst P. DuBois were put in charge of the new department and section, respectively (Ecopetrol, 1955b ídem).

 


Commissioning of pumps and piping of fuel oil system in the Galán port.

 

The exploration developments in the Galán field paved the way for exploratory drilling in the banks and bed of the Magdalena River; likewise the fields Llanito, Quebrada Roka and Colorado were ventured into (Ecopetrol, 1957). One of the pioneering studies of the Department of Geology was the identification of the exploratory well Infantas 1613, with the aim of advancing the geological knowledge of the Cretaceous formation. The drill was conducted in 1953, when a depth was reached of 11,100 feet, deeper to those made in the past and that had not reached the Cretaceous layer.

 

In the mid-fifties Ecopetrol technicians could see an exploratory outlook free of the grim forecasts of the late forties: Between 1952 and 1954, 110 wells were drilled, of which 92 were productive. Three years later, in 1957, upon reviewing the experience accumulated by the company, Ecopetrol announced that since the reversion, 181 new wells had been drilled, some for deep exploration and others in development of existing fields. All this work could now be taken forward, according to the company, with modern drilling equipment, which previously was not available. There was also modern portable equipment for the reconditioning and cleaning of wells.19Ecopetrol already had equipment available for the drilling of deep wells up to 20,000 feet and others for medium depths of up to 8,500 feet, which met high standards of technical quality for the time (Ecopetrol, 1957).

 

The Carare area of the De Mares Concession, which was the subject of litigation before the law courts, was not on the regular exploration schedules. To resolve its legal status, Ecopetrol decided to undertake the exploration, and to that end entered into a partnership contract with the Colombia-Cities Service Petroleum Co., under which the cost of geophysical surveys and deep drilling would be distributed between the parties, and if commercially productive reservoirs were found, the proceeds would be divided proportionally.20In a similar way as was done with Cities Service, at about the same time other partnership contracts were attempted: One of which was formalized with the independent oil company J. W. Mecon to advance exploration in concession areas acquired by the company in Tolú (Ecopetrol, 1957).

 

Production

 

The production of barrels per day in the fields of the former De Mares Concession, under the control of Ecopetrol, fell in the early years of the fifties, just as the studies carried out by the National Petroleum Council had predicted in the late forties, but its levels were much higher than those estimated by the Western Geophysical Company in 1949, as shown in Table 6 (p. 72).

While production in the former De Mares Concession declined, that of the Yondó concession increased and that of the Barco Concession was maintained. In the early fifties, the oil produced by these two concessions represented over 60% of total production by the industry, and their behavior offset the decline in the De Mares Concession. Thus, crude oil production in the first half of the fifties remained relatively constant. With estimated reserves above those received by Ecopetrol (see Table 5, p. 71), the Yondó Concession was subjected to intense drilling in 1950 and 1951, which led to it rising from third place within the production of crude oil in the late forties, to first place in the early fifties(Vargas Barros, 1952).21The author argues that the rise in production in the fields of Yondó was the result of very intense drilling activity in 146 new wells.

 

Under the management of the Tropical Oil Co. the production fields (such as Infantas and La Cira) were fully electrified, thus the wells pumping system was powered by electric current. Ecopetrol followed the same production method in wells, and extended the use of electrical energy to other units through the installation of gas turbines and boilers to make use of combustion heat. In the mid-fifties, this facility was new in Colombia and the second in South America (Ecopetrol, 1957). The electrification of the fields inherited from the De Mares Concession was extended and modernized, and as a technological advance of the time the engineers highlighted the installation of a remote control system, to direct the motors in the pumping wells installed in the production fields, from the plant(Ecopetrol, 1957).

 

In summarizing their effort of over five years in exploration and exploitation to the National Engineering Congress of 1957, the company engineers declared that of 1,567 wells drilled they had 1,127 under their attention spread over an area of 8,000 hectares (Ecopetrol, 1957). By this time, the technicians initially employed by the Tropical Oil Co., of foreign origin, and that carried on in Ecopetrol as advisors to the Colombian technicians, had left; thus, after six years of exploration and production the company’s technical management was in the hands of Colombians (Ecopetrol, 1969).

 

Refining

 

The expansion and modernization of the Barrancabermeja refinery at the time was not only seen as a necessary step in the oil industry, but as a contribution to industrial progress that by then was in full swing.22On this matter Lleras Restrepo expressed himself as follows: “Another important step in the industrial process of recent years has been the installation of a modern oil refinery in Barrancabermeja, which came to significantly increase domestic refining capacity” (Lleras Restrepo, 1955: 22). The project was conceived in order to meet the domestic demand for petroleum products, with the exception of the North Coast and west of the country. Taking into account the market to be satisfied, and having chosen the type of crude oil that would be processed, the Foster Wheeler Co., which would be responsible for the work of expansion and modernization, the International Petroleum Co., which would be responsible for the operation of the new factory, and the independent consultant J. F. M. Taylor, determined the capabilities that the process plants would have.23It was agreed that the expansion would be designed to refine crude oil from De Mares area “C” and De Mares natural gasoline (Vargas Sierra, 1952).

 

Three years after the inauguration of Ecopetrol, the new Barrancabermeja refinery entered into operation with a capacity to refine 37,500 barrels of raw material per day, instead of the 25,000 that were refined since the time of the Tropical Oil Co. In practice, the lessee company, in this case the Intercol, would buy the crude oil and natural gas from the De Mares fields from Ecopetrol, as well as the crude oil originating from the Velásquez field from the Texas Petroleum Co.24At the time, the Barrancabermeja refinery was considered one of the most modern of its kind worldwide (Ospina Racines, 1952b).  The estimates of the time showed that upon the plant entering operation, which previously could not meet more than 40% of domestic demand for gasoline and light fuel, would now be able to supply 70% of this and replace part of fuel imports.

 

In 1955 construction began of the Cartagena refinery, in Mamonal, in an area near the terminal station of oil the pipeline owned by the Andian National Co. Owned by Intercol, refining capacity was projected at 26,500 barrels of crude oil for loading per day, and its production would supply the North Coast, West Coast and Valle del Cauca through tankers that would transport the refined products to Buenaventura. The technical specifications of the plant were contracted with the S. O. Development Co. and C. F. Braun of Cali(Ospina Racines, 1955).25Cartagena refinery was inaugurated on December 1, 1957 (Del Hierro, 1960a).

 

In addition to the aforementioned major refineries, during the course of the fifties distillation units were set up at sites funders considered strategic. Esso Colombiana S. A. installed a simple distillery for five thousand barrels a day in La Dorada, and Texas followed suit in their camps in Tetuán (Ospina Racines, 1952a). Over time, the fuel supply by region was facilitated by the establishment of new refining units, such as the Tibú refinery (Barco Concession) in Norte de Santander, and the plant El Guamo, installed by Texas in Tolima (Ecopetrol, 1955c).

 

Gas

 

The projections of the late forties on the future performance of the De Mares Concession reservoirs described the expected decline in production of crude oil and natural gas. When despite the decline in the reservoirs, Ecopetrol achieved production well above forecasts, the use of natural gas demanded the attention of the new company. In fact, the existing plants at the time of the reversion were already obsolete by the mid-fifties, and a modernization of the plant in El Centro in relation to the processing of gas was the order of the day. In the meantime, the processing of natural gas in the plant inherited under the former concession continued to produce both dry and liquid gas; the production of the latter benefited from the inclusion of facilities for its recovery in the modernization designs for the refinery in the early fifties.

 


 

In the second half of the decade, Ecopetrol contracted The Ralph M. Parsons Co. for a plant modernization project that gave prominence to natural gas processing. With this initiative, the company planned to have modern equipment by the end of the decade for the exploitation of natural gas. Indeed, in mid-1959 the plant designed and built by Parsons in El Centro was inaugurated, so that the District was equipped with four plants for the treatment and processing of natural gas, namely: El Centro, La Horca, Colorado and La Cira. Together, their natural gas compression capacity per day reached 36 million cubic feet (Ecopetrol, 1957, 1969).

 

Transportation

 

In the second half of the fifties the oil industry had about 1,700 kilometers of oil pipelines, two thirds of which were dedicated to the transportation of crude oil (see Table 7, p. 74). The Andian National Co.’s oil pipeline, which had the greatest length and capacity, extending from Barrancabermeja to Mamonal, at this terminal found a group of 16 tanks with a capacity to store 1.2 million barrels; the total storage capacity, including tanks and pipes, in 1945 already reached 2.6 million barrels. According to the contract governing its operation, the oil pipeline transported crude oil to the Nation each month and free of charge, 18 hours at full capacity, or paid it the equivalent in money.

 

Unlike the Andian pipeline, which transported crude oil originating from various concessions, that of the South American Gulf Oil Co. (Sagoc) was private and, unlike the first, their rates were not modified by government decision.26Interestingly, the Sagoc and the Andian oil pipelines crossed near La Gloria, such that the crude oil that ran along the Sagoc pipe could have been redirected towards Mamonal or towards Barrancabermeja.  As with the Andian oil pipeline, that of Sagoc already had total storage capacity in late fifties (tanks and pipeline), which in this case exceeded 1.7 million barrels (Ecopetrol, 1955a).

 

Cicuco Airport. Aircraft and employees of International Petroleum Company, late 1950’s.

 

Upon modernization of the Barrancabermeja refinery, one of the immediate issues was the transportation of petroleum products to the consumption centers: Under the Tropical Oil Co. and in the early years of Ecopetrol, an oil pipeline was used that was built by this company, which connected the refining plant in Cantimplora, on the banks of the Magdalena and in front of Puerto Berrío; it was a sixinch pipe, an emergency model, similar to those used in the world wars. Ecopetrol replaced this piping with eight inch piping and with pumping stations to take the products to Cantimplora, from where the pipelines Cantimplora-Medellín and Cantimplora-Puerto Salgar commenced, and a last line ran from Puerto Salgar to Bogotá (see table 7, p. 74).

In the past it was necessary to combine land and river transport for the fuel to get to the interior centers of consumption. With the installation of the new oil pipelines, a more direct and economical transportation system was implemented. These changes were a milestone in the history of fuel transportation.



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