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Oil is one of Colombia's principal exports. The Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline transports almost 20 percent of Colombia's oil production. The pipeline originates in the Department of Arauca in northeast Colombia. It carries oil nearly 500 miles to the Caribbean port of Covenas. The pipeline has been a principal infrastructure target for terrorist attacks by Colombia's insurgent groups. During 2001, attacks on the pipeline cost the Colombian government an estimated $500 million in lost revenues for the year. The United States agreed to assist Colombia in protecting the first 110 miles of the pipeline where most of the attacks were occurring. We examined how the U.S. funding and resources provided to Colombia have been used, and what challenges remain in securing the pipeline.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State Because Colombia continues to face serious obstacles in its long-standing insurgency and in protecting the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, should develop a plan for transitioning the pipeline security program in Arauca to the Government of Colombia. The plan should delineate (1) how the helicopters provided for pipeline security will be used and maintained, (2) how the progress made to date will be sustained, and (3) an expected completion date for U.S. involvement.
Closed - Implemented
On December 7, 2007, the governments of the United States and Colombia signed a property title transfer agreement to formally transfer the pipeline security program to Colombia. The plan clearly delineated (1) how the helicopters should be used, specifically the plan noted that all aircraft may be used for pipeline security, and that 5 aircraft may be used for other purposes (such as counter-narcotics) when not needed for pipeline protection. The plan also provided for (2) how the progress made to date will be sustained. Progress will be sustained through provisions that place priority on the original mission of pipeline security, as well as provisions that call for the continued protection and appropriate uses of the aircraft. Finally, (3) the expected completion date for U.S. involvement was determined as the date on which the U.S. Embassy and the Colombian Ministry of Defense notify each other that the respective legal requirements related to the aircraft title have been satisfied. The GAO recommendation resulted in measurable financial benefits of cost avoidance associated with the program, which had been funded at an annual rate of about $4 million. The five year cost avoidance is over $18 million.

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