Bolivia Oil And Gas Profile
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  • Hydrocarbons are an important element of the economy of Bolivia, one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America.
  • Though Bolivia exports natural gas to Brazil and Argentina, continued questions about the actual size of its proved natural gas reserves have contributed to skepticism about the country's potential to be a significant fossil fuel producer and regional energy hub.
  • Political risk also has characterized the energy sector and foreign involvement in it. Bolivia has asserted greater state control over the energy sector since President Evo Morales and his Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party assumed power in January 2006 and issued a nationalization decree in May of that year.


  • 1996 - Petrobras Bolivia began operations
  • 1999 - First section of the Bolivia-Brazil Gas Pipeline (GSA) enters operations
  • 2006 - President Evo Morales issued a nationalization decree
  • 2011 - Production start-up of the Itaú field


  • The state-owned oil company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) controls, oversees, or executes all activities in the country's oil and gas sector. YPFB has absorbed various private firms that were nationalized and now act as subsidiaries of the national oil company, such as YPFB Andina, YPFB Chaco, and YPFB Transporte (formerly Transredes). YPFB Petroandina was created as a 60-40 joint venture between YPFB and PDVSA (the Venezuelan national oil company).
  • While YPFB leads the oil and gas sector, private companies often act as operators and lend important expertise, services, and capital. For those firms that were not nationalized, the government imposed significantly higher royalties and eliminated the “risk-sharing” contracts that conferred ownership rights over resources to private companies. Instead, private companies surrender production to YPFB in exchange for a fee.
  • The Ministerio de Hidrocarburos y Energía (MHE, Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy) is the planning and policymaking body that has overseen the industry's restructuring, augmented state control over the energy sector, and attempted to revitalize hydrocarbon exploration, production, and processing. The Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos (National Hydrocarbons Agency) has regulatory oversight over the supply and disposition of oil and gas.
  • Though specifics have not been finalized, the government plans to unveil policies to encourage new investment and stimulate hydrocarbon exploration and production. There have been proposals to fully reimburse private producers for their exploration costs if they find new reserves of oil or gas, or increase the price paid to private firms for each barrel of oil produced. Foreign investment in the sector has stagnated as profit margins have narrowed and the international price of oil has diverged from the price that the Bolivian government is willing to offer, which has been frozen at $27 per barrel.



  • Bolivia has proven oil reserves of 465 million barrels, according to Oil & Gas Journal. Estimates of Bolivia’s proven reserves have been relatively consistent since the early 2000s, when they increased three-fold due to heightened exploration activity.
  • Bolivia has only the sixth-largest oil reserves in South America and ranks among the smallest reserve-holders in the world. The country claims another 391 million barrels of probable reserves and 255 million barrels of possible reserves.
  • Bolivia has proved natural gas reserves of over 26 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), according to Oil & Gas Journal, which would rank as the second largest reserves in South America. However, some studies have suggested that the country’s proved reserves are less than half that size. Most recently, YPFB accepted a Ryder Scott report that significantly downgrades the size of Bolivia’s proved reserves to 9.9 Tcf.
  • Tarija contains over 85 percent of the country’s proved natural gas reserves (led by the San Alberto, Margarita, Sábalo, and Itaú fields), followed by Santa Cruz (10.6 percent) and Cochabamba (2.5 percent). Recent test wells by Repsol YPF and YPFB have each discovered large volumes of natural gas in Santa Cruz’s Rio Grande field.
  • According to recent analysis by EIA and Advanced Resources International, Bolivia has 48 Tcf of technically recoverable shale gas resources.

Exploration and Production

  • Bolivia's production of crude oil, including lease condensate, was slightly below 43,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2010. Total Bolivian oil production – which also includes natural gas plant liquids, other liquids, and refinery processing gain – was almost 54,000 bbl/d in 2010.
  • According to official Bolivian statistics, more than half of the country's oil production is driven by two fields – Sabalo (36.6 percent) and San Alberto (20.6 percent). They are primarily natural gas fields that produce associated lease condensate.
  • Tarija, which claims those two fields, dominates liquids production (70 percent), followed by the departments of Cochabamba (15 percent), Santa Cruz (12 percent), and Chuquisaca (3 percent).
  • As operator of the Sabalo and San Alberto fields, Petrobras's Bolivian subsidiary was responsible for nearly 60 percent of the country's 2010 liquids production. Other significant operators include Repsol YPF (18 percent of 2010 liquids production) and two subsidiaries of the national oil company – YPFB Chaco (11.9 percent) and YPFB Andina (5.5 percent).
  • Bolivia produced an estimated 446 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of dry natural gas in 2009, a substantial decline from a peak of 518 Bcf the year before. Preliminary Bolivian data suggest that natural gas production and exports rebounded in 2010, both increasing by more than 10 percent.
  • Approximately three-fifths of Bolivian natural gas production comes from the Sabalo (34 percent of 2010 production) and San Alberto (26 percent) fields. They both lie in Tarija, which accounts for over 70 percent of Bolivian natural gas production.
  • Santa Cruz ranks second at just below 20 percent. MHE has announced that La Paz, Beni, and Pando will soon join Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and Tarija as natural gas producing departments.
  • Officially, the largest natural gas producer in the country is YPFB. However, as with the oil sector, Petrobras Bolivia is the operator of the Sabalo and San Alberto fields and is thus responsible for 60 percent of the country’s output.
  • State-owned YPFB Chaco and YPFB Andina collectively produce 20 percent of Bolivia’s natural gas, with a number of privately held firms responsible for smaller stakes.
  • In February 2011, a consortium that includes Total, Petrobras, and YPFB Chaco announced the start of commercial production in the Itaú Gas Field (near San Alberto field), which will produce over 50 million cubic feet (MMcf) of natural gas per day. According to some plans, future phases of development could more than triple those volumes.
  • YPFB has announced that it and foreign partners plan to invest over $4 billion in the natural gas sector by 2015. President Morales's goals include a near-doubling of natural gas production by 2015.

Active Companies

  • The state-owned oil company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) is the largest player
  • Repsol has mining rights on 29 blocks, 4 exploration blocks, with a surface area of 6,749 sq. km and 25 development blocks covering 1,561 sq. m.
  • Petrobras is involved in five onshore blocks (two being exploration blocks: Ingre and Rio Hondo)
  • Total has been present in Bolivia since 1996 and in addition to its interest in Block XX also holds interests in the permits of San Alberto and San Antonio, whose production is mainly exported to Brazil. The Group’s equity production in Bolivia reached 20,000 boe/d in 2010.

Crude Oils

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  • The state-owned YPFB Transporte controls the majority of Bolivia's petroleum transportation network. It operates more than 1,242 miles (2,000 kilometers) of pipelines – capable of carrying crude oil, condensate, natural gas liquids, and intermediate products – that connect centers of production with the departments of Cochabamba, Oruro, and La Paz.
  • CLHB S.A. Nacionalizada, another component of the national oil company, operates a separate network of petroleum product pipelines that total about 932 miles (1,500 km).
  • An international oil pipeline connects the northwestern terminus of the domestic pipeline network with Arica, Chile. In the south, the YPFB Transporte network terminates at the border between Yacuiba, Bolivia and Pocitos, Argentina.
  • Petrobras operate part of the natural gas transportation system from Bolivia to Brazil as well as the Yacuiba to Rio Grande gas pipeline (Gasyrg) which, together with the Bolivia-Brazil Gas Pipeline (GSA), assures the flow of natural gas production from the San Alberto and San Antonio fields.


  • Bolivia's refining capacity is roughly equivalent to its current crude output. YPFB Refinación S.A. is the state-owned subsidiary that operates the country's two largest refineries. Nearly 60 percent of Bolivia's 2010 refinery output came from the Gualberto Villarroel Cochabamba Refinery in Cochabamba, which has 25,000 bbl/d of crude oil refining capacity according to Oil & Gas Journal.
  • The Guillermo Elder Bell Santa Cruz Refinery processed has a capacity of 16,500 bbl/d. The combined output from YPFB Refinación's two refineries satisfies all internal demand for gasoline, jet fuel, and kerosene, 55 percent of domestic diesel consumption, and 20 percent of liquefied petroleum gas consumption.
  • YPFB has announced plans to boost capacity from 43,600 bbl/d to 57,000 bbl/d over the next few years. The government also reports output from two much smaller refineries in Santa Cruz, Oro Negro and Parapetí.

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