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Mexico's Vista preps first two shale oil pilots in Argentina's Vaca Muerta

Buenos Aires — Vista Oil & Gas plans to invest $157.4 million in its first pilot projects in Vaca Muerta, betting on the Argentinian shale play for oil and natural gas production growth.

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The Mexico City-based company got a 35-year production license for a block in the play that it plans to divide in two for the projects, it said in a statement Thursday.

The company will target shale oil in the projects in Vaca Muerta, one of the world's largest shale plays.

The start of the projects hinges on the signing of a decree by Omar Gutierrez, the governor of Neuquen, home to the blocks, it added.

Once approved, the company will divide Bajada del Palo into Bajada del Palo Este and Bajada del Palo Oeste. On the first, it plans to invest $51.8 million in drilling five wells a three-year pilot, while on Oeste it plans to do an eight-well pilot over 18 months with an investment of $105.6 million.

If the resources are commercially viable for production, Vista will invest up to $9.3 billion in drilling 651 wells in the development phase on the blocks, according to a separate statement from the Neuquen government.

The project comes as more companies bet on Vaca Muerta for production growth, including international majors like Chevron, Shell and Total. While the majors have most of the acreage along with Argentina's state-backed YPF, a number of juniors like Vista are building portfolios in the play.

Vista entered Vaca Muerta at the start of the year through the acquisition of assets from Argentina's Pampa Energia, bringing to the operation the experience of its chairman and CEO, Miguel Gutierrez, who led YPF's initial efforts in the play from 2012 to 2016.

-- Charles Newbery,

-- Edited by Annie Siebert,

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