(Corrects the last name of the Petroperu official to Alva Hart from Hart)
By Mitra Taj
LIMA, March 1 (Reuters) - Peru plans to declare the country’s sole oil pipeline a “strategic asset” so the military can protect it from a string of vandalism attacks, the pipeline’s operator, state-owned Petroperu and a Cabinet spokesman told Reuters.
The spokesman said on Thursday that the center-right government of Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will ask Congress to approve the move “in coming days.”
The attacks in a remote Amazonian region over the past two years have made investors nervous at a time when Peru, a relatively small oil producer, is seeking to shore up slumping output, said Beatriz Alva Hart, a Petroperu manager for relations with communities near the pipeline.
The 1,106 km (687 mile) pipeline transports crude from jungle oil blocks tapped by Frontera Energy Corp and Perenco to Petroperu’s refinery on the Pacific coast.
Since the start of 2016, some 11,100 barrels of oil have spilled from the pipeline in 14 attacks, and 5,600 barrels spilled because of corrosion or operative failures, data from environmental regulator OEFA showed.
“We’re exhausting all of our efforts to maintain the integrity of our pipeline,” Alva Hart said in an interview on Wednesday.
“The pipeline will soon be qualified as infrastructure that’s a strategic asset for the Peruvian state,” allowing the military and not just the police to protect it.
Petroperu suspects local businesses hired to clean up oil from two corrosion-induced ruptures in early 2016 have been behind the subsequent spate of vandalism.
The pipeline was cut open again by suspected vandals on Tuesday, spilling 40 barrels from a pipeline section inoperative since last month over issues with crude quality, Alva Hart said.
“We’re no longer going to hire those kinds of companies, because it creates a sort of perverse incentive,” said Alva Hart, explaining one way Petroperu hoped to discourage more attacks.
Petroperu will use companies and workers outside the Amazonian region instead, she said.
To help indigenous residents find steady work, Petroperu has been hiring them to clear paths to the pipeline so Petroperu can better maintain it, Alva Hart said.
“We’re rebuilding relations with communities,” Alva Hart said.
Indigenous leaders have repeatedly called for Petroperu and authorities to do more to stop the spills and mitigate impacts on communities that rely on local land, water and wildlife for survival.
Alva Hart said 14 investigations into the attacks have been opened by public prosecutors with no arrests made. (Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Grant McCool)