Argentina pumps record shale oil as Vaca Muerta takes off

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BUENOS AIRES, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Argentina posted record shale oil production in December, the energy ministry said on Tuesday, as development of the huge Vaca shale formation Muerta of the country contributes to production gains.

The South American nation pumped a daily average of 282,400 barrels of shale oil in December, up by almost a third compared to the same month in 2021.

Unlike conventional oil and gas fields that contain mostly a mixture of petroleum liquids, shale deposits are trapped in dense hydrocarbon-rich rock but generally require hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Shale production represented almost half, or 45%, of the country’s total oil production of 622,500 barrels per day (bpd) in December, also marking the highest production volume since 2009.

The figure represents a growth of more than 11% compared to the same month in the period of a year ago.

Argentina is one of Latin America’s mid-range oil producers, after regional leaders Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.

Energy Minister Flavia Royon said in a statement on Tuesday that more oil production is good for the growth of local jobs as well as higher foreign exchange earnings.

The government has pledged to reverse a 2022 energy deficit of about $5 billion to a surplus of about $12 billion by 2025.

Vaca Muerta, located in the Patagonian province of Neuquen, is the world’s No. 2 shale gas reserve and the fourth largest oil reserve, and the key to the boost of Argentina to reduce dependence on expensive energy imports.

On Monday, the Minister of Economy Sergio Massa said that in the next 90 days the government is expected to launch an auction for the construction of the second section of a main natural gas pipeline from Vaca Muerta. (Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Daniel Wallis)

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