Recent developments are unwinding the tangled web of regulations and shortcomings in Argentina’s shale services industry. With that, private players may be able to reshape the E&P landscape of one of the world’s largest shale gas reserves.
“Vaca Muerta is a prospect that can compete with the best reservoirs in the world,” Tecpetrol CEO Carlos Ormachea recently said at an investment conference. And industry seems to be in line with his train of thought.
Just last week, ExxonMobil announced it would put down $200 million to increase its natural gas output in Argentina. The company holds interest in the Los Toldos I Sur Block with Tecpetrol (10%) and Gas y Petroleo del Neuquen (10%).
Until recently, it was the state-controlled YPF that controlled the majority of Vaca Muerta’s riches. However, that’s bound to change as IOCs and mid-sized players seize on President Mauricio Macri’s commitment to drive shale developments. While that means increased E&P activity moving forward, by no means will YPF let its acreage simmer down.
The NOC recently agreed with Pampa Energía, the largest electricity company in Argentina, to invest $150 million in a 35-year extension to develop the Rincon del Mangrullo Block in Neuquen province. They have prescribed a 13-horizontal well program to take a closer look at the Vaca Muerta and Las Lajas formations, and the duo wants to continue developing the tight gas Mulichinco Formation.
YPF also operates Loma Campana with partner Chevron.
But Dow Chemical, a prominent player ever since Vaca Muerta’s development began years ago, is considering leaving its iconic El Orejano joint venture with YPF. The move could entice new partners to continue tapping into the prolific block.
Partnering with Vaca Muerta’s top connoisseur, YPF, may be what many new players want—and the first indications are already making headlines. Statoil, a newcomer which signed a 50-50 joint venture to explore the Bajo del Toro Block in Neuquen on Aug. 25, is one of the latest signs of growing industry interest for solid partners on the ground.
And after YPF’s former CEO decided to step down recently, Macri’s pro-shale administration praised the incoming replacement, Miguel Gutierrez, who wants to streamline the state-owned company’s business units and focus on unconventional innovation.
At the same time, the government is pushing shale development now through its Ministry of Mining and Energy. Last week, sources told local media that the probability of subsidizing large-scale shale projects may become a reality after months of conversations with Juan Jose Aranguren, the mining and energy minister for Argentina.
A group led by YPF, Total, Pan American Energy and Wintershall has been looking to snag subsidies for gas projects put forth between 2013 to date. As the law stands today, companies could qualify for a fixed sale price per million BTU, a figure that’s almost double that in the U.S. The new law’s fine print, which will be enforced starting January 2018, has not been revealed yet though. Companies want to negotiate and that would probably mean operators would have to commit further investment in new projects to secure the sweetened terms.
Whether that happens or not, oil and gas firms are already focusing on reducing production costs. One example is Tecpetrol, which is cutting its operational costs by half. “Our challenge as an industry is to make it cost competitive,” Ormachea said at the local industry conference. “The target is ambitious, and it’s feasible.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the Vaca Muerta holds 16.2 billion barrels of shale oil and 308 Tcf of shale gas—most of which is largely unexploited—and shale E&P has been steadily growing.
As Macri continues taking steps to boost investor confidence in a country that has been plagued by defaults and stringent government oversight in past administrations, the future looks promising, according to analysts. It will just be a matter of materializing world-class promises to deliver South America’s first shale revolution.
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