Flirting with Default, Argentina Enjoys Oil Drilling Boom

Posted by Joseph R. Fonseca
Monday, July 21, 2014

 

Holders of Argentina's  defaulted debt and their supporters have warned the country risks being frozen out from international capital markets unless it finds a way to solve its legal problems by the July 30 deadline.

But away from the bad-tempered litigation in U.S. courts, which has dominated the news about Argentina for months, the country is experiencing an oil drilling boom as international companies seek to cash on its huge shale resources.

In June, there was an average of 107 rigs drilling for oil or gas in the country, the highest number operating since records began in 1982, and more than double the number at the start of 2012, according to oil field services company Baker Hughes (Chart 1).

Most were hunting for oil rather than gas. Oil-based exploration accounts for most of the increase in activity since the start of 2012 (Chart 2).

******************************************

Chart 1: http://link.reuters.com/xyx42w

Chart 2: http://link.reuters.com/baz42w

******************************************

North American drilling giants like Nabors Industries and Helmerich & Payne have some of their largest and most modern rigs contracted to work in the country.

Helmerich & Payne has 10 of its rigs in Argentina, accounting for a third of its total drilling fleet outside North America, according to a recent investor presentation.

And a host of smaller drillers are in the country, mostly working on the Vaca Muerta (Dead Cow) and Los Molles shale formations in the Neuquen basin near the Andes in central Argentina.

LOTTERY WINNER

"The shale play in Argentina is unique because of the rock. It's thickness. Argentina has kind of won the geological lottery," a spokesman for Chevron told Reuters in May ("Argentina won lottery with Vaca Muerta shale field" May 22).

"Vaca Muerta is like one big cake, 1,000 feet (305 metres) thick in places, which means one well can be much more productive."

Chevron has a joint venture with Argentina's state-owned YPF to develop shale oil and gas in the Vaca Muerta.

"Vaca Muerta could become an important contributor to Chevron's long term production growth," the company emphasised in a press release in April.

Neuquen is a long-established oil and gas-producing region and Vaca Muerta was the source for much of the oil and gas found in conventional reservoirs in the area.

Vaca Muerta therefore shares many of the characteristics that made the Bakken, Eagle Ford and Permian shales in the United States so successful: organic-rich shales with low clay content in areas that had already produced oil and gas and that had an established infrastructure.

THE BIG LEAGUE

In its comprehensive assessment of global shale resources, published in 2013, the U.S. Energy  Information Administration estimated that Argentina  has the world's second-largest resources of shale gas (after China) and fourth-largest shale oil (after Russia, the United States andChina).

Argentina's technically recoverable shale gas and oil resources amount to just over and just under 10 percent of the world total respectively, according to the EIA ("Technically recoverable shale oil and shale gas resources" June 2013).

Argentina is thought to have more shale oil than the United States - which could potentially push it into the ranks of the world's biggest oil producers.

Nearly all this shale oil and gas is contained in the Vaca Muerta and Los Molles shale formations. The Neuquen basin therefore ranks as one of the most highly prospective shale plays in the world and one of the most likely to be developed outside North America.

POLITICAL RISK

While the below ground geology is highly favourable, the above-ground obstacles to large-scale development are formidable.

Argentina's history of political and economic instability, serial debt defaults, devaluations, and expropriatons of foreign property, including the recent nationalisation of Repsol's holding in YPF, make outside investors wary.

But the prize is enormous, too big for international oil companies to ignore, and the country's politicians, from the president downwards, show a strong awareness of the need for foreign capital and expertise to develop what could be a transformational national asset.

Fortune favours the brave, as oil companies can attest. The biggest prizes globally are all in tough political environments (Russia, Iraq, Iran,Mozambique) or geological ones (China, Brazil, Arctic). In this company,Argentina's oil and gas resources do not appear especially risky.

Apache, EOG, ExxonMobil, Total , YPF, Chevron and several smaller companies have all already been active in the Neuquen basin.

LEGAL SIDESHOW

For the next few days, investors will remain transfixed on the unfolding story of whether or not Argentina will pay its holdout bondholders, find a way to pay exchange bond holders despite the rulings of the U.S. courts, or default.

Bond specialists have described the prospect of default as a "catastrophe" that would shut the country out of international financial markets and send the economy into a tailspin, according to the Financial Times ("Argentina nears cliff in risky debt game" July 20).

That assessment is almost certainly overstated. Bond holders always talk tough about the consequences of default. There is a long history of sovereign defaults around the world and no indication defaulters pay a significant penalty after a couple of years.

In the medium and long term, the success, or otherwise, of oil and gas production from the Neuquen basin is far more central to the country's prospects.

Argentina's future will be determined not in New York's court rooms but by whether drilling firms can figure out how to unlock commercial quantities of oil and gas from its thick shale, and whether the government can provide them with a sufficiently stable environment to get on with the job.

(Editing by William Hardy)

Maritime Reporter February 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Legal

Zamakona Yards' Commitment to Well-being

Recently employees of Zamakona Yards participated in a training course for maintaining Health, Safety and Environment (HSE). The theoretical practice focused on working at heights,

GasLog Post 4Q 2014 Results

GasLog Ltd. and its subsidiaries an international owner, operator and manager of liquefied natural gas carriers, today reported its unaudited financial results for the quarter ended December 31,

Chassis Pools for Port of Long Beach

Three companies that own the vast majority of chassis serving the San Pedro Bay ports are on track to activate a “gray chassis fleet” of truck-trailers on March 1,

Finance

Jinhui Shipping Plummets to Loss

Norway listed dry bulk shipper Jinhui Shipping said the tough market that owners faced last year will become tougher in 2015.   Dry bulk shipping market Environment

Berenberg in $1.1bln Box Bid

The world's second-oldest bank Joh. Berenberg Gossler & Co. KG is lining up a new fund worth EUR 1bn ($1.1bn) for the containership sector.   A report appeared

GasLog Post 4Q 2014 Results

GasLog Ltd. and its subsidiaries an international owner, operator and manager of liquefied natural gas carriers, today reported its unaudited financial results for the quarter ended December 31,

Energy

GasLog Post 4Q 2014 Results

GasLog Ltd. and its subsidiaries an international owner, operator and manager of liquefied natural gas carriers, today reported its unaudited financial results for the quarter ended December 31,

Petrobras Downgrade Shakes Market

Moody's shocked bond investors this week with a surprise two-notch downgrade that put Brazilian oil company Petrobras in junk territory. The move was seen by some investors as overly assertive,

Brightoil Reports Steady Growth in Interim Results

Brightoil Petroleum (Holdings) Limited announced its interim results for the six months ended December 31, 2014, reporting steady growth over the period.   During the period,

News

China's Maritime Advances Worry US

The Director of U.S. National Intelligence, James Clapper, has expressed his concern at the progress of China in maritime zones it shares with its neighbors, accused

British Queen to Name New Ship

Queen Elizabeth II will christen P&O Cruises’ new flagship Britannia in Southampton, England, on March 10. She will be accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Berenberg in $1.1bln Box Bid

The world's second-oldest bank Joh. Berenberg Gossler & Co. KG is lining up a new fund worth EUR 1bn ($1.1bn) for the containership sector.   A report appeared

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Standards Offshore Oil Pod Propulsion Port Authority Ship Electronics Ship Repair Ship Simulators Sonar
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2358 sec (4 req/sec)