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Argentina's Neuquen boosts crude exports in June as local demand falls

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Platts Global Alert - Oil

Argentina's Neuquen boosts crude exports in June as local demand falls

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Province exported 19% of output in June

Out of total exports, 60% went to the US

Surge in exports comes as lockdown hurts local demand

Buenos Aires — Producers in Neuquen, the most productive oil province in Argentina, ramped up exports to 850,000 barrels in June, with some coming from the giant Vaca Muerta shale play, the provincial government said.

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The exports accounted for 19% of the 150,000 b/d of output in the southwestern province that month, Governor Omar Gutierrez said in a July 5 statement.

Of the exports, 60% went to the US, 30% to the Bahamas and the rest to Belgium and the Netherlands, he said.

"It is a sign of the quality and competitiveness of our resource," Gutierrez said.

Neuquen produces a light conventional crude known as Medanito, while Vaca Muerta's shale oil is even lighter. Most of the production is sold domestically to refiners, who usually mix it with heavier crudes from southern Patagonia to produce most of the diesel, gasoline and other products consumed in Argentina.

The steady local demand — at an average of 450,000 to 500,000 b/d — had kept down exports, with heavier crudes from the south like Escalante shipped more frequently. Indeed, Medanito exports totaled 200,600 barrels in the first four months of 2020 compared with 489,240 barrels in all of 2019, according to the latest data from the Energy Secretariat. Over that same period, exports of Escalante totaled 8.1 million barrels and 17.7 million, respectively.

However, the increase in Medanito exports came as a lockdown of the economy from March 20 for the coronavirus pandemic depressed domestic demand, freeing up more supplies for selling abroad, including from Vaca Muerta. The lockdown, which has been extended to July 17, has forced producers to scale back output in Neuquen, even shut wells, as storage capacity quickly filled in March and April.

Refiners ran only 288,000 b/d in April, down 35% from April 2019, as demand from airlines, businesses and motorists plunged by between 60% and 75%, according to the latest data from the Argentina Oil and Gas Institute, an industry group.

This led to drop in production to a low of 130,000 b/d in May from an average of 170,000 b/d before the pandemic in Neuquen.

Yet, with the rise in export sales and a gradual loosening of the lockdown, producers have been able to restart wells, taking production to 150,000 b/d in June, Gutierrez said.