Argentina oil find mostly hype for now (Updated)


Better than shale oil. Click for original.

(Special bonus update at end of story.) Argentine President Cristina Fernandez went on TV yesterday to announce a major new oil discovery, with various outlets reporting that the discovery would boost the country’s oil reserves by 150 million barrels, or 8 percent. Not so fast.

Repsol subsidiary YPF did say it found 150 million barrels of shale oil. But the company has carefully avoided calling these reserves, which would indicate that they could actually pump the oil at a profit. In fact, in its securities filing to the Buenos Aires exchange (nicely posted at, it says:

[The initial results] allow us to estimate technically recoverable resources of 150 million barrels of oil equivalent in this area. These resources do not to date constitute proved reserves and will be recognized under that category when they fulfill the formal criteria required by the Comisión Nacional de Valores [Argentina] and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Just as a favor to those of you trying to sort these things out in the future, here is a translation of a bit of the YPF statement with the key words highlighted:

YPF informs of the discovery of non-conventional hydrocarbon resources (shale oil) in a 330 square km area of the Vaca Muerta (Dead Cow) formation in Loma La Lata (Tin Hill), Neuquén province, with average thicknesses of 250 meters, containing more than 150 million barrels equivalent of potential resources…YPF starts in this manner the first large-scale development of a non-conventional oil reservoir (shale oil) in the world outside of North America. As in the USA, these resources represent a potential opportunity to generate new reserves in the future.

I highlighted the terms that give away that this is, for now, just hype. They are saying there’s some oil there, but it’s locked up in relatively un-porous rocks, and they may have to spend so much getting it out of the ground and hauling it to market that they will lose money on every barrel. That would be a resource, but not a reserve. Reserves are, by definition, resources that can be economically extracted with current technology. Finding 150 million barrels of oil that can’t be economically exploited is one of those things that should make everyone say “well, that’s interesting” and move on. Frankly, I’d rather have dinosaur bones on my property. Oh wait, they do. Honestly, for now, that is much more exciting. I love dinosaurs.

Update: given what I just said, I suppose it makes sense that I just came home to find this tweet waiting for me:

In case your Spanish is failing you, it says, “@chavezthefighter Hugo Chavez Frías: @CFKArgentina [for Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the president]! Congratulations, my dear Cristina, for this great oil reservoir discovery! Argentina to OPEC! Bravo!!”

Argentina to OPEC. Palm to face. Who will tell Hugo that Colombia, produces almost 50% more oil than Argentina?

3 thoughts on “Argentina oil find mostly hype for now (Updated)

  1. westslope

    «Tenían que ser argentinos.» ¿Y no brazileros? Es el pais que siempere tiene algo….. ¡O mais grande do mundo!

    «Mi querida Kristina…» …that level of familiarity and disrespect must turn off more than just a few folks in Argentina, and elsewhere.

    For you gringos who are perplexed…. older, conservative people in rural Argentina still address their parents with formal titles.

    BTW, and FWIW, when shopping junior oil exploration companies, if there isn’t an unrisked prospective resource that exceeds 25 million [stock] barrels of original oil in place (OOIP), an extra effort is made to figure out why the play is attractive. 25 mm barrels is a medium-sized target.

  2. sapitosetty Post author

    Sure, 25 million is fine for oil. This is shale. 3,000 feet underground. It may be oil at some point, for now it’s an election campaign commercial.

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