Argentina Pumps Record Shale Oil as Vaca Muerta Takes Off

(Reuters) — Argentina posted record production of shale oil in December, the energy ministry said on Tuesday, as development of the country's huge Vaca Muerta shale formation fuels output gains.

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

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

Shale production represented nearly half, or 45%, of the country's total oil output of 622,500 barrels per day (bbl/d) in December, which also marks the highest volume of production since 2009.

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

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

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

The government has pledged to reverse a 2022 energy deficit of around $5 billion to a surplus of around $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-biggest oil reserve, and key to Argentina's push to lessen reliance on pricey energy imports.

On Monday, Economy Minister Sergio Massa said the government expected to launch an auction for the construction of the second section of a major natural gas pipeline from Vaca Muerta in the next 90 days.

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