The oil industry will invest up to $120 billion in Colombia over the next 10 years even though a crude output target of 1 million barrels per day has not been achieved due to persistent security challenges, the president of the Colombian Oil Association, or ACP, said.

Alejandro Martinez made the announcement and reviewed the industry's prospects during a press conference in this capital.

"We expect that (over the next) 10 years there will be investment in exploration and production of $50 billion, and that including refining and transportation this will climb to $120 billion," Martinez said.

He added that 150 new exploratory wells are to be drilled over the course of 2012, up from an average of 74 a few years ago.

Regarding the government's stated goal of achieving production of 1 million barrels of crude per day, the ACP president said it has not been achieved due to actions of illegal armed groups against oil infrastructure in different regions, as well as environmental licensing delays.

Colombia's U.S.-backed military has made big strides in recent years in pushing leftist guerrillas into more remote areas, but the rebels still post a threat to oil pipelines and other infrastructure.

Martinez specifically mentioned attacks on two of Colombia's main pipelines, Caño Limon-Coveñas and Transandino, as well as acts of sabotage and blockades of oil fields by protesters in some production areas.

He also said delays in the awarding of licenses had caused output to be reduced by roughly 60,000 barrels per day.

However, Martinez said he is confident the problems stymieing the production goal can be overcome through government assistance and intervention.

"We expect to continue increasing production through the end of this decade," when projections are that output will reach "a level close to 1,200,000 barrels per day," the ACP president said, stressing the importance of stable "rules of the game" in terms of taxes and royalties.

Average daily production over the past two years has come in at 930,000 barrels, according to the association's figures.

"The most important goal is for the country's reserve levels to rise in this sector, one of the main pillars of the (Colombian) economy," Martinez added.

The ACP chief said that based on government studies of the sector's potential, "Colombia could multiply its level of proven hydrocarbon reserves 20- or 30-fold because today, between oil and natural gas, there are some 3.3 billion barrels."

But boosting those reserves will require "exploratory activity and investment," he added.

Finally, Martinez hailed the "vigorous growth" of the oil sector and said the rise in the number of contracts from 17 to 50 annually proves that Colombia is an "internationally competitive" investment destination. EFE