PetroEcuador Says Biggest Oil Pipeline Cut by Amazon Landslide

OPEC member Ecuador's biggest crude pipeline, known as SOTE, was cut today by a landslide in the country's eastern Amazon region, said PetroEcuador, the nation's state-owned oil company.

The pipeline, which transports Ecuador's Oriente crude to the Esmeraldas refinery and the oil port of Balao on the Pacific coast, halted operations after an avalanche of boulders and dirt pushed the conduit 40 meters (131 feet) off course near Ecuador's Reventador volcano, the company said today in an e-mailed statement. Cleanup and repair efforts have begun and no time frame was given for when the pipeline would restart, PetroEcuador said.

Today's accident is the second time in two months that a landslide has damaged Ecuador's oil pipelines. The avalanche may have been triggered by recent explosions and tremors from the nearby Reventador volcano, Ercilia Torres, a PetroEcuador spokeswoman, said today by telephone from Quito.

The volcano exploded eight times yesterday and sent a column of steam 600 meters into the air, the country's geophysical institute known as IGEPN, said yesterday in a statement. PetroEcuador doesn't know how much oil was spilled in the region today when the pipeline was cut, Torres said, adding that no one was injured.

The SOTE pipeline has a transport capacity of about 360,000 barrels a day, according to PetroEcuador. Oil accounts for about 57 percent of Ecuador's exports, according to central bank data.

On April 8, Ecuador's heavy-crude pipeline, known as OCP, was damaged by a landslide near the city of Esmeraldas, spilling about 5,500 barrels of oil. The OCP restarted operations four days later.

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