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Colombia, alongside U.S.-based Chevron Corp. (CVX), has agreed to continue exporting natural gas to energy-rich neighbor Venezuela for two-and-a-half years more, as part of a deal that began in 2008.
Colombia's national oil company, Ecopetrol (ECOPETROL.BO), and Chevron jointly operate a field in Colombia's northern La Guajira region, near Venezuela, which has been sending gas to needy western Venezuela for four years.
The agreement for Colombia to continue selling natural gas to Venezuela until mid-2014 also included contractual adjustments that will eventually oblige Venezuela to export gas to Colombia, Ecopetrol said in a statement sent late Thursday.
Gas exports were 50 million cubic feet per day when the program began but have continued to increase. This year, Ecopetrol and Chevron sent around 185 million cubic feet of gas per day.
The gas is sent through a 225-kilometer pipeline built and operated by Venezuela's state-owned energy firm, PDVSA, which connects the La Guajira field with Maracaibo city.
The contract with Ecopetrol, Chevron and PDVSA initially called for exports to reverse in January 2012. Using the same pipeline, PDVSA would export gas to Colombia for 16 years in a sort of payback for the time Colombia exported to Venezuela during a time of need.
But much of Venezuela's natural gas is located in the eastern part of the country, and PDVSA has fallen behind schedule in its plans to build pipelines that can deliver the gas in east-to-western Venezuela, and then on to Colombia.
Part of the problem is also that Venezuela, which is among the world's top oil exporters, injects much of its natural gas reserves into its oil reservoirs, which increases pressure and keeps production flowing at steady rates.
Colombian officials have said meeting domestic needs would be top priority if there is a local shortage, and that it would reduce or halt gas sales to Venezuela.
-By Dan Molinski, Dow Jones Newswires; 57-310-867-6542; firstname.lastname@example.org