Colombia has published the terms of reference for its hydraulic fracturing (fracking) pilots and will award contracts to four projects by the end of this month.

According to a reference document published in October by the National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH), the most “favorable” four projects will be picked from those taking part in the bidding process. Read the document, in Spanish, here

The pilots in the Middle Magdalena and Cesar Ranchería basins will serve as a technical, operational and environmental assessment of fracking in Colombia. From there, the government can make a definitive decision and adopt a policy on the drilling technique.

Previously, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, along with Colombia’s state oil company Ecopetrol SA, expressed formal interest in these pilot projects. 

Energy Minister Diego Mesa said last month the pilots would likely move to drilling by the end of 2021 so that a proper diagnosis can take place before the end of the term of the government of President Ivan Duque in August 2021.

Fracturing has been controversial in Colombia and has been bogged down by legal and other challenges.

Ecopetrol CEO Felipe Bayon previously has said he considers fracturing key to the country’s long-term energy security.

Proven natural gas reserves in Colombia were 3.1 Tcf at the end of 2019, equivalent to eight years of production, but ANH director Armando Zamora sees contingent gas reserves as eight times higher.

Colombia has 55 Tcf of technically recoverable shale gas resources, which would place it fifth in South America, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Argentina has 802 Tcf and Mexico has 545 Tcf of technically recoverable unconventional gas resources.

In Latin America, only Argentina has employed fracturing on a commercial scale, in particular in the Vaca Muerta Shale formation. Mexico has practiced the technique, and regulation is in place, but the current government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador opposes it.