Quick: How many Latin American oil and gas stocks can you name besides Petrobras (NYSE:PBR)?

If you got stuck after just one or two, I can't blame you. While Canadian investors have plenty of Latin America-focused names to choose from, including Pacific Rubiales Energy and Petrominerales, there aren't many such E&Ps listed on U.S. exchanges. What few there are, tend not to get a lot of coverage by yours truly. To correct that deficiency, I'm going to introduce three names today that may merit our ongoing Foolish attention.

A $50+ billion oil company you've never heard of
The U.S. listing of Ecopetrol SA (NYSE:EC) in September 2008 couldn't have come at a much worse time, following close on the heels of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the rescue of AIG, and the breaking of the buck. Investors were distracted, to say the least. But it is kind of amazing to me that the company remains nigh invisible in the U.S. market more than a year after its ADRs began trading here.

Ecopetrol, Colombia's biggest company and Latin America's fourth largest oil major, sports just 24 picks in Motley Fool CAPS. Tiny domestic explorer Kodiak Oil & Gas (AMEX:KOG) has over 300.

Granted, Ecopetrol lacks the deepwater flash of Petrobras, but it does have much to recommend it. For a company of its size, Ecopetrol packs a lot of growth potential. This partially stems from a history as a national oil company starved for capital during years of fiscal austerity. With its recent conversion to a "mixed economy" company -- still majority owned by the state, but with budgetary autonomy and access to capital markets -- the company is ready to ramp.

In 2008, proved reserves totaled 1.1 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) and production averaged 447,000 BOE per day. 81% of that production was crude oil, making this a very oily beast. Looking out to 2015, Ecopetrol targets production growth of 12% per year, taking the firm to one million BOE per day, and reserve additions of 430 million BOE annually, with nearly 60% coming from exploration and the rest from development and acquisitions. Exploration will be balanced between local opportunities, and international partnerships with the likes of Talisman Energy in Peru, Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC) in Brazil, and StatoilHydro in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Significant development gains should result from improved recovery rates in older fields through secondary recovery, as well technological advances in heavy oil exploitation.

Ecopetrol's reasonable shot at doubling production within a relatively short time frame, combined with a very strong balance sheet, should go a fair way towards offsetting the inevitable concerns about Colombia's internal security issues, which include the occasional pipeline bombing by guerillas.

Two Spicy Explorers
So maybe a big national oil company isn't your style. You want something with a little sizzle. One of these next two may be for you.

BPZ Resources (AMEX:BPZ) sits on a pretty impressive 2.4 million acre leasehold in northwest Peru. Then again, exploration parcels run pretty big down there, with Talisman Energy claiming a working interest in over 9 million gross acres across just five blocks in the country. Despite its vast holdings, BPZ has only completed a handful of wells since the Corvina discovery well was spudded offshore in 2006. Prior to the recent commencement of drilling in the nearby Albacora field, drilling had been limited to delineating the Corvina deposit. With BPZ retaining 100% working interest -- rather than farming some out to a partner -- these wells don't come cheap, which partially explains the pace here.

From the size of its reported well tests (5,350 barrels/day at CX11-18XD, 10,268 barrels/day at CX11-20XD), you would think BPZ would be swimming in crude at this point. Production levels remain pretty light, though, partly on account of a gas intrusion at 20XD that has limited oil output.

The situation could turn around pretty quickly, after BPZ drills a few more new wells. The company has the cash on hand for the program, following an equity raise in June. BPZ now needs to prove that it can deliver strong well performance. I don't personally believe the shares are cheap enough to justify a speculation on such a positive outcome.

Finally, we've got Gran Tierra Energy (AMEX:GTE), which operates in Colombia, Argentina, and Peru. The Canadian company, which is headed up by veterans of EnCana (NYSE:ECA), made an unusual entry into the public markets via a reverse merger with a bulletin-board listed, Nevada-incorporated shell company called Goldstrike. The stock was also promoted early on in a snail-mail spam campaign backed by some colorful characters. Stocks like these tend to catch my wrath in Motley Fool CAPS.

Despite the inauspicious beginnings, Gran Tierra has grown into a pretty significant operator through a series of acquisitions (particularly of former partner Solana Resources) and discoveries (i.e., Costayaco in Colombia). The company sports 5.6 million net acres of leasehold, reserves of 19.2 million BOE, and 14,000 to 16,000 barrels per day of expected production capacity for the balance of the year. That production is almost all Colombian oil.

Next year, cash-rich Gran Tierra goes "elephant hunting" in Peru, and success there (no easy feat) would bring another step change in the firm's reserve and production profile. The valuation on this stock, based on production projections for the back half of 2009, is a bit below that assigned to BPZ, using that firm's guidance for 2010. I have to say I find Gran Tierra a little more interesting here, but that's based on some very preliminary research. Both should be interesting to follow.

StatoilHydro and Petrobras are Income Investor recommendations. If dividends are your thing, give this newsletter a spin, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.