Ecopetrol and PDVSA’s Orinoco joint exploration

Carlos Rodado, Colombian Mining and Energy Minister, announced possible joint exploration of the Orinoco basin by Colombia’s Ecopetrol and Venezuela’s PDVSA. According to Colombia’s leading think tank Fedesarrollo, in 2009 Colombia extracted 66.45 percent (425 thousand b/a) of its oil from the fields in its side of the basin, which accounts for 30 percent of the basin’s area with the remainder on Venezuelan territory. Rodado’s statement comes after high-level bilateral meetings that resumed diplomatic and trade relations between the two neighboring countries, stalled after political rifts grounded on evidence of Venezuela’s support and protection of Colombia’s FARC, a left-wing terrorist organization.

Will the joint exploration come to reality? Both companies are state-owned, however their management motivations are radically different. While Ecopetrol acts independently, PDVSA operates driven by political motivations fitting clearly into state-capitalismwhere businesses’ drivers are “maximizing the state’s power and the leadership’s chances of survival”, as oppose to profit/growth maximization. Ecopetrol, a majority state-owned company, is a solid and well-governed company. Ecopetrol’s management independently decides about its investments based on project assessment without affecting Colombia’s fiscal position. The company is listed on the NYSE (EC) and, most recently, on the Toronto’s Stock Exchange. Ecopetrol’s share has performed positively, increasing value both in USD and COP, which has not been the case of other players such as Brazil’s Petrobras whose share has declined since January, according to Brooking’s Mauricio Cárdenas Santamaria.

PDVSA… well, is the opposite of Ecopetrol. The highly in-depth state owned company is crucial in Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez regime. Not surprisingly, the company’s CEO is also the head of the Ministry of Energy and Oil and one of PDV’s vice-presidents is Chavez’s brother. The company’s funds most of Venezuela’s “social” programs, which guarantee people’s support for Hugo Chávez.  PDVSA, more over, has unsuccessfully taken over several other nationalized companies in the sector.

Whether or not the joint exploration crystallizes, Ecopetrol should be wary of its business partner.

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