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Argentina shale drilling to be fully reactivated by Q1 2021

AFP

Vaca Muerta in Argentina holds the world's second largest deposits of shale oil and gas.

By Daniel Politi/Argus

BUENOS AIRES
Petroleumworld 10 20 2020

Drilling in Argentina's shale-rich Neuquen province will return to pre-pandemic levels in March 2021, according to provincial government estimates.

The Neuquen basin "will be completely reactivated, and there will even be more equipment operating than there was before the pandemic," governor Omar Gutierrez said.

Oil and gas activity in Vaca Muerta, the country's star shale formation that is mostly focused in Neuquen, came to a standstill after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown in mid-March and has since been struggling to bounce back from gutted demand.

In February, there were 73 rigs active in Neuquen, including 33 drilling rigs. In April the first full month of the lockdown the active rig count slumped to four, but with none earmarked for drilling.

Now in October, there are 42 active rigs in Neuquen, including 16 drilling rigs. That compares with September, when there were 25 rigs, including 11 for drilling.

"We have slowly been recovering activity. We have 42 rigs today and the projection is to get to 56 In November with an increase every month until reaching 80 rigs in March next year," Gutierrez said.

The increase in activity in September was also reflected in a jump in hydraulic fracturing. Neuquen registered 325 unconventional hydraulic fractures in September compared with just 98 in August, but less than the 438 registered in March, according to data provided by Luciano Fucello, country manager of NCS Multistage, a US-based services firm.

Shell carried out 145 of the fractures in Neuquen last month, followed by Latin American independent Vista Oil and Gas with 132 and Argentina's state-controlled YPF with 48.

There is optimism in the sector that the government's new subsidy program for natural gas production will help boost activity in Vaca Muerta and the country's other shale formations. But the details of the program are still under wraps.

Argentina's gas production declined by 7.5pc to 125.548mn m3/d in January-August from a year earlier, according to energy secretariat figures. Crude production during the period dropped 4pc to 483,440 b/d.

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