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Protesters leave Pan American Energy oil field in Argentina

BY TAOS TURNER

BUENOS AIRES--Hundreds of protesters have ended their occupation of a strategically important oil field belonging to Argentina' s Pan American Energy, the company said in a statement late Sunday.

The protesters took over the field early Thursday, destroyed crucial equipment and jeopardized the flow of gas to untold numbers of people in Argentina, Pan American had said in a previous statement Friday.

The end of the protest will come as a big relief to both Pan American and Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, who has been struggling to deal with dissatisfied union members across the country.

Rampant inflation has curbed purchasing power, but the Kirchner administration has pressured labor to delay signing agreements to raise wages, angering rank and file union members.

Economists say inflation likely totals around 25% annually.

Pan American said Sunday it would work to return oil and gas production to normal at the field, known as Cerro Dragon in Chubut Province, which is the most important of its kind in Argentina.

Crude output at the field had fallen sharply as a result of the protest and company officials warned that within hours it could leave many people in southern Argentina without gas used to heat their homes.

Pan American said the protesters, who belong to a construction workers' union known as "The Dragons," stormed the area early Thursday and destroyed trucks, fiber-optic equipment and critically important monitoring equipment.

Chubut Governor Martin Buzzi said the union had very carefully planned its attack on the field. He said they had made a "surgical strike" on the company' s control equipment and that this was much more than a simple union protest.

The workers demanded higher wages and legal recognition.

The protesters aren' t Pan American employees but work as contractors for companies hired by Pan American. The workers have been granted a meeting Monday with provincial officials, Pan American executives and the contractors that directly employ them, according to the statement.

BP PLC owns a 60% stake in Pan American. The remaining 40% is equally split between Argentina' s Bridas Energy Holdings Ltd. and China' s Cnooc Ltd. (CEO, 0883.HK).
Dow Jones Newswires

 

06/25/2012

 

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