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Argentina Shale Production

Vaca Muerta Shale, the Best in the World.

Argentina Shale Production:

Emanuel Martin

Argentina shale plays: Vaca Muerta, Los Molles, Aguada Bandera, Inoceramus and Magnas Verdes, Ponta Grossa Formation.Argentina is one of the four shale producers on a commercial scale in the world together with the United States, Canada and China. The main activity is located in the Neuquen Basin where the interest formations are Vaca Muerta and Los Molles. In addition, Argentina has other three basins with shale formations viable of be exploited economically: The San Jorge Basin located in the Chubut Province with the Aguada Bandera formation, the Austral Magallanes Basin located in the provinces of Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego with the formations Inoceramus and Magnas Verdes, and the Paraná Chaco Basin located in the northwest of the country with the Ponta Grossa formation.

Figure 1: Argentina Basins with shale formations.

Drilling activity:

The first unconventional wells were drilled in the year 2010 in the Neuquen Basin and from which the activity has maintained a sustained growth until the year 2015. Drillings are intertwined between vertical wells and horizontal wells with multiple  fractures stages  in which they  has been seeking to find the optimal design between the investment and the production obtained per well. To date have been already drilled more than 1166 unconventional wells in the Neuquén Province  and among the achievements of the state oil company YPF we can highlight the Well LLL-992 with 2km of  horizontal extension and 28  fractures stages concluded in October 2015.

Unconventional wells drilled in Vaca Muerta and Los Molles formation. Source: Neuquen subsecretary of energy.

Figure 2: Unconventional wells drilled in Vaca Muerta and Los Molles Plays.

Despite of the short   production  history with that account the shale production   in the country the first EUR estimates are around the 15600m3 for vertical wells with five fractures stages and  130000m3 for horizontal wells with ten stages of fractures.

Main Shale Field in Neuquen Basin:

To date stand out mainly three  producer fields: Loma Campana operated by the consortium Chevron-YPF  producer mainly of shale oil,  "Loma del Molle" operated by the consortium YPF, Exxon-Mobil and G&P producer of shale oil and shale gas, "Orejano" operated by the consortium YPF-Dow Chemical that produces principally  shale gas.

Vaca Muerta Shale, Source: Neuquen subsecretary of energy,, Emanuel Martin, Exploration wells

Figure 3: Vaca Muerta Shale Map showing the dry gas, wet gas nad oil windows together with the mains operators in the field.

Current Shale Oil Production:

The current production of Shale Oil in Argentina (Only Neuquen Province is considered) in the last months presents mild fluctuations reaching a production of 26,701MBbl/d in May of this year.

It should be noted that the barrel price in Argentina is regulated by the State  having declined from 84 dollars per barrel in 2015 to 67.5 dollars per barrel in May of this year for  the Medanito crude  (light crude  of the Neuquén Province similar to WTI).

shale oil production Nequen, Source: Neuquen subsecretary of energy." title="Argentina shale oil production in Vaca Muerta and Los Molles shales

Figure 4: Shale Oil Production from Vaca Muerta and Los Molles Plays

Current Shale Gas Production:

The production of shale gas has shown a slight increase in this year reaching 26,122MBoe/d in May 2016. In the same way as the  barrel price the Government sets different prices for the gas being about  4.5 US$ per million BTU for shale gas  this year.

Shale gas production in Nequen, Source: Neuquen subsecretary of energy." title="Argentina Shale Gas production from Vaca Muerta and Los Molles Formation

Figure 5: Shale Gas Production from Vaca Muerta and Los Molles Plays.

Future Prospects:

Argentina has large reserves of shale gas (802 tillion cubic feet) and shale oil (27 billion barrels) being positioned in second and fourth place at world level respectively in terms of technically recoverable resources. In addition to the four basins that have shale formations viable to be exploited economically Argentina has the jewel of Vaca Muerta whose petrophysical characteristics positioned it as the best shale play in the world and according to American Entities such as Mark Papa (former CEO of EOG Resources) could exceed the production of Eagle Ford of the United States.

Being that the development of this type of fields need the injection of billions dollars per year and recalling the lack of budget to have the National Government to address projects of this scale, automatically is put in evidence that the shale industry in Argentina only can reach high production levels with the investment of foreign capitals.

As a result the problem for the Argentine shale development is not primarily in the international barrel price, domestic price or in the specialized workforce; if not in the absence of a solid policy in energy matter that set clear and stable game rules in the long term to give the necessary security at the international level in order to attract the foreign investments to the country.

To solve this problem the  Macri Government must concentrate on establishing the laws, rules and guarantees that will govern the energy policy of the country from now on in a clear, predictable and understandable way for any foreign company who wants to invest in the Argentinian Shale. Meanwhile Argentina will continue having the best Shale Play in the world but It will continue to grow in small steps as it has been doing until now.

Emanuel Martin
Emanuel Martin is a Petroleum Engineer graduate from the Faculty of Engineering and a musician educate in the Arts Faculty at National University of Cuyo. In an independent way he’s researching about shale gas & tight oil and building this website to spread the scientist knowledge of the shale industry.

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