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Ecuador's crude oil production, exports climb in March

Bogota, Colombia — Ecuador produced an average 530,000 b/d of crude oil in March, up from 511,000 b/d pumped in March of last year, but down 0.6% from the 533,000 b/d produced in February, according to data available Wednesday on the central bank's website.

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The bank's website also disclosed that during March the nation exported a total of 12.278 million barrels of crude, up 10.2% from the 11.143 million barrels shipped abroad in March of last year and a 21.9% jump from 10.074 million barrels exported in February.

While the government does not regularly break out destinations and buyers of its exported crude, President Lenin Moreno and his government have previously disclosed that 90% of all crude exports this year are headed to Asia -- mainly China, Thailand and India --to pay obligations related to loans taken out by predecessor ex-president Rafael Correa to finance social programs and infrastructure projects. These programs Correa launched left the country deeply in debt and, earlier this year, Ecuador was forced to seek a $10 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The average price of Ecuador's exported crude in March was $58.30/b, up 2.3% from $57.01/b in March 2018 and 8.6% from $53.66/b in February. Export receipts from crude in March totaled $715.82 million, up 12.7% from the $635.27 million collected in March 2018 and 32.4% from $540.56 million collected in February.

Ecuador anticipates a significant increase in production by the end of the year as the Ishipingo field, the third and final piece of the development of the so-called ITT (Ishipingo, Tiputini and Tambococha) block in the Amazon basin, comes online.

Assuming that required environmental permits are issued, Ishipingo should be pumping crude by November, reaching volumes of as high as 90,000 b/d, officials at state-owned Petroamazonas told local media this week. As many as 100 production wells are set to be drilled. The block's other two fields, Tiputini and Tambococha, are already producing a combined 66,000 b/d.

The ITT block is controversial because of its diverse jungle animal and plant life and its proximity to an indigenous community. Government rulings over the past two years have significantly cut the area that wildcatters originally were going to exploit. Former president Correa's government had forecast that, all told, the ITT block would ultimately yield as much as 300,000 b/d, whereas now it looks to max out at roughly half that level.

-- Chris Kraul, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com