Vaca Muerta in Argentina

Vaca Muerta nears record frac stages

BUENOS AIRES, March 12, 2021 – After a rough 2020 with a drop of 50% in frac stages in Argentina’s Vaca Muerta formation, companies operating in the prolific shale basin conducted 685 frac stages in February, just short of the formation’s historical monthly record.

February’s count was 3.8% lower than the 712 frac stages seen in the record-setting month of February 2019, as well as 70.4% higher than the pre-pandemic February 2020 activity.

According to a report compiled by the Argentine unit of Houston-based service company NCS Multistage, ExxonMobil led the way by massively developing the Bajo del Choique – La Invernada block and adding 196 frac stages, followed by Vista Oil & Gas with 178 frac stages in the Bajada del Palo Oeste block. The list continues with YPF with 122 frac stages, Pan American Energy with 73, Pluspetrol with 71 and Chevron with 45.


Luciano Fucello, country manager for NCS Multistage, told local media last week that there are three reasons for the increased activity.

First, the price of the barrel of oil was higher than USD 50.

Second, the new Argentine Natural Gas Production Promotion Plan (Plan Gas.Ar) had by December 2020 mandated national production of 70 mcm per day of natural gas up to 2024. Its main goal is to increase the country’s gas production to 30 bcm per year by that time, reducing fiscal expenditure by USD 2.5 billion and saving USD 9.2 billion on LNG and Bolivian gas imports.

Third, a large stock of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUC) wells that were drilled before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Argentina are now being completed. Leading the way is YPF, which had 81 (71 shale oil and 10 shale gas) DUC wells pre-pandemic and plans to complete an additional 48 within H1 2021.

In spite of the increased frac stages, overall drilling activity is half of the level seen in August 2019, when Argentina’s former Macri administration intervened the sector via Decree 566/19 and froze the internal prices for oil and fuels. By then, the country had 71 drilling rigs active in the country, whereas in January 2021 the number was 34.

Read our latest insights on: