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Argentina puts priority on boosting oil, gas exports for economic recovery


Exports seen low in relation to potential

Oil exports rise 33% year on year in H1 2020

Pipelines have capacity for increasing shipments

Buenos Aires — Argentina's new energy secretary Dario Martinez plans to promote oil and natural gas production with a view to increasing exports as part of a strategy to pull the economy out of one of its worst crises on record, he said Aug. 27.

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Martinez, who took office Aug. 26, discussed the plans for energy policy Aug. 27 with Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez, according to a statement late that day.

Fernandez told Martinez to focus on increasing energy production "to adequately supply domestic needs, replace imports, and generate higher exportable balances that produce a growing favorable energy trade balance," the statement said.

His administration has been putting greater focus on export growth, in particular oil from the giant Vaca Muerta shale play, as a key for bringing in much-needed dollars to help pull the country out of a financial crisis that started in 2018 and worsened this year. Most economists forecast that the economy will contract by more than 12% in 2020 and only slowly recover in 2021, largely because of a decline in activity during an already four-month lockdown of the economy for the coronavirus pandemic.

Government prioritizes exporting

The need to ramp up exports was widely mentioned by Argentinian authorities during an Aug. 27 videoconference organized by the Americas Society and Council of Americas.

"We must increase our exports," Foreign Minister Felipe Sola said at the event. "Argentina's total exports are very low in relation to our potential."

Miguel Angel Pesce, the central bank governor, stressed the potential for increasing exports of oil, gas and refined products as the world economy recovers from the pandemic.

"We hope that world demand will grow so that Argentina can develop all its export potential," he said.

Vaca Muerta, one of the world's largest shale plays, has less than 10% of its acreage in full-scale development, according to government estimates.

Oil exports rise 33%

In the first half of 2020, Argentina stepped up crude oil exports 33% to an average of 51,840 b/d, from 44,928 b/d in the year-earlier period, according to data from industry group Argentina Oil and Gas Institute.

The increase came largely because of a decline in demand during the lockdown, which began March 20 and has been extended to Aug. 30. This cut local oil demand to as low as 200,000 b/d in April from a pre-pandemic average of 450,000-500,000 b/d, making it possible for producers to increase exports as Brent, the international reference price followed in Argentina, rebounded to $45/b from less than $30/b in April.

While oil production was still below the pre-pandemic levels of nearly 520,000 b/d as of Aug. 28, its recovery to 469,384 b/d in July from a low of 445,614 b/d in May has made it possible to increase exports over existing infrastructure, a former Energy Secretariat advisor told S&P Global Platts.

"There is an excess capacity" on the pipeline to Puerto Rosales, an Atlantic port in southern Buenos Aires province, due east from Neuquen, the former advisor said.

He added that another pipeline to Chile, which has been out of use since the late 1990s, can also be revamped for exporting up to 100,000 b/d with an initial investment of $5 million to $10 million.

"If somebody wants to push this project ahead, within a window of a year that could happen," he added.

On Aug. 24, Alejandro Monteiro, the energy minister of Neuquen, home to most of Vaca Muerta, said there is 360,000 b/d of proposed pipeline capacity that can increase oil exports from the Neuquen Basin as production grows. This includes a project by Oleoductos del Valle, a pipeline operator, that is under study to expand the pipeline system to Puerto Rosales for exporting 260,000 b/d, as well as the pipeline to Chile.