That the production of hydrocarbons in Neuquén has more and more presence of shale, and to a lesser extent of tight, has as one of its main reasons the concessions granted by the provincial government in recent years. A total of 42 areas were granted by the Province under the label of Concession for the Unconventional Exploitation of Hydrocarbons (CENCH), focusing on investments aimed at developing the geological formation of Vaca Muerta.
One of the keys to this model to accelerate Neuquén shale was to tender smaller areas that allow the activity to be energized, with projects that have more specific objectives, and shorter deadlines for the pilot stages. The last two concessions granted, Bajo del Toro Norte for Equinor and YPF and Mata Mora Norte for Phoenix Global Resources, were within the framework of this approach of implementing a new stage for Vaca Muerta. Both blocks were subdivided to develop the surface and will have a different rhythm under the terms of resolution 53 of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.
National Decree 929/13 created the figure of Unconventional Exploitation: the production of hydrocarbons in geological formations of shale or shale rocks, compact sands and other conditions of low permeability. And in Loma Campana it all began: the agreement between YPF and Chevron came out as a provincial concession for 25 years plus the extension for 10 years, to reach 35 years with a fiscal stability scheme as intended.
That decree is still in force and has a series of benefits that were breached by the national government. Those companies that invested at least 1 billion dollars in a given period could export 20% of oil production with zero withholdings and have the free availability of foreign exchange.
Neither Chevron nor Petronas, YPF's partner in the other project that entered this plan, La Amarga Chica, were able to access the benefits. With the modification of the national law, in 2014, the investment amounts were lowered to 250 million dollars and present the projects in a tripartite commission.
The first shale-targeted wells were exploratory, but with the provincial concessions and the incentives that came out later they gave more volume to the activity. YPF and Chevron are said to have absorbed the cost of the learning curve. The moments after were marked by the market: first with many projects in the oil window, unconventional gas initiatives followed with tight in areas such as Lindero Atravesado of Pan American Energy, El Orejano of YPF and Dow and Río Neuquén of YPF.
"We arrived at the 42 concessions we have today, in which the Province, in recent years, was always looking for a way to change the previous paradigm, from concessions of not very extensive surfaces, to be able to discuss a shorter term of the pilots to accelerate, and see how to also accelerate the investment of pre-development or development, "- explained Alejandro Monteiro, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources of Neuquén, in dialogue with +e.
"With that objective, we generated the format for the granting of CENCH, with resolution 53, ratified by provincial decree. This standard seeks to be more demanding with the level of investment that is required of a company to access a concession, depending on the level of estimated resources and the area that is deriskeed in the pilot stage, but the company is asked for a greater exploratory effort. Then, the companies have to present the development plan with investment commitments that the Province approves or rejects according to the conditions and level of development that they propose to us, "he explained.
These aspects constitute what the provincial government calls the new stage in the development of Vaca Muerta. "There is the learning curve of the companies, which improved operationally and in the results of exploitation, but also the learning curve of the state, in what has to do with the administration and in how we get the most out of it in terms of investments and activity in the blocks that we give in concession", Monteiro said.
Oil and gas production has been breaking records thanks to the increasing percentage that Vaca Muerta has in the activity. Daily oil production in December reached 244,586 barrels, of which 87% were unconventional crude. In relation to gas, production was 78.99 million cubic meters per day, with 77% of that volume being of unconventional origin (shale and, to a lesser extent, tight)
The 42 concessions represent a third of the surface of Vaca Muerta. The model is giving results, which are measured in production, but it has a limit: transport. Key to the future of Neuquén shale is the new gas pipeline and the expansion of the oil pipeline system.