Energy Analytics

The Vaca Muerta Comes of Age

byPatrick Rutty

For many years, my favorite thing from Argentina was a fossil I found near Tucunuco in 1986 while doing geologic field work. We were jouncing across the desert in a mid-1950s Jeep affectionately named La Tortuga, when I glanced down at the passing rocks and happened to notice a nice ammonite (Figure 1) in a small block of limestone — what luck! But my new favorite thing might just be the up-and-coming unconventional oil and gas play that has blossomed 600 miles south of my fossil find: the Vaca Muerta.

Photo of Argentine Ammonite Fossil
Figure 1 | Argentine Ammonite Fossil (Photo by Patrick Rutty)

Why would I be so fond of a relatively new unconventional play with just fewer than a thousand wells drilled so far? The simple answer? It’s the real deal, in the sense that it competes with the top North American shale plays in both productivity and economics. Production in the play has increased six-fold from 2016 to ~413 Mboe/d today and the average oil EUR for a 2018+ horizontal Vaca Muerta well is about 100 Mbbl/1,000 feet, placing it well on the high end when compared to top U.S. shale plays (Figure 2). Historically, well costs have been one of the play’s biggest headwinds, with average drill and complete costs coming in above $10 million per well, but recently operators have been able to curve costs downwards, placing half-cycle breakevens as low as $36/bbl WTI.

FIGURE 2 | Vaca Muerta Oil — Weighted Type Curve Versus U.S. Shale Plays
Figure 2 | Vaca Muerta Oil — Weighted Type Curve Versus U.S. Shale Plays (Source: Enverus; Note: 2018+ vintage wells, >40% WH Liquids)

With many super majors (TTE, RDSA, XOM and CVX) participating in the play, either directly or through non-operated assets, and a number of smaller pure-play operators (YPF, PAE, VIST and Wintershall), Enverus anticipates activity levels within the play to keep climbing. YPF, the Argentine NOC, planned to spend $1.5 billion in 2021, PAE is investing ~$150 million in infrastructure through mid-2023 and RDSA intends to spend $1 billion to drill 100 wells through 2022.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the Vaca Muerta story is that the play is well positioned to benefit from data-driven optimization using U.S. analogues; applying the hard lessons learned regarding completions, spacing and parent-child wells from U.S. plays to develop the Vaca Muerta in the most optimized way possible (Figure 3 and 4). Enverus’ industry leading analysis and tools for U.S. unconventional plays, whether it’s multivariate analysis or machine learning algorithms, can amplify available data and guide technical teams of engineers and geologists to an understanding of what works where, and why.

Other unconventional plays in Abu Dhabi, Australia, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have gained momentum in the last few years. Using the Vaca Muerta as a playbook, world-class operators can stand to reap the most in terms of capital efficiency, production and economic returns. But it won’t be by luck, like when I found my ammonite, but by properly leveraging Enverus’ data analytics tools and expertise.

FIGURE 3: Cross Plot of Williston Basin EURs Versus Spacing
Figure 3 | Cross Plot of Williston Basin EURs Versus Spacing (Source: Enverus)


Figure 4: Multivariate Analysis Quantifying Relative Contribution to EUR Versus Spacing for Different Reservoir Qualities
Figure 4 | Multivariate Analysis Quantifying Relative Contribution to EUR Versus Spacing for Different Reservoir Qualities (Source: Enverus)
Patrick Rutty

Patrick Rutty

Patrick is Director – Global Research at Enverus, where he previously held positions in Sales, Technical Sales & Consulting, and Product Management. Before joining Enverus, he spent 26 years working with large and small E&P companies as a member of exploration teams focused on basins in North America, Saudi Arabia, and central Europe, in roles from prospect generation and exploration management to business development and executive leadership. Patrick holds an A.B. in Earth Sciences from Dartmouth College and an M.S. in Exploration and Development Geophysics from Stanford University.

Subscribe to the Enverus Blog

A weekly update on the latest “no-fluff” insight and analysis of the energy industry.

Related Content

Energy Analytics Energy Transition
ByAndrew Gillick

In case you missed it, Enverus virtually hosted EVOLVE, our flagship conference, May 16-17. The event included two full days of presentations, panels and keynotes, distilling the most relevant data and thoughts on the industry today.  Below Andrew Gillick, managing director...

Energy Analytics Other
ByShane Reddell

In the current landscape of heightened environmental and social consciousness, upstream oil and gas companies face significant challenges in achieving favorable refinancing for their existing credit facilities. These challenges are compounded by the recent volatility in the debt markets and...

Energy Analytics Intelligence Publications
ByMaurice Smith

Wildfires that have already scorched more than double the average annual fire destruction across Alberta forced the shut-in of more than 300,000 boe/d while threatening future shuttering of output from the so-far largely unaffected oil sands region. Record temperatures saw...

Energy Analytics Energy Transition
ByHeather Leahey

CO2 containment risk has become one of the most popular topics among our clients evaluating CCUS projects. Operators need to understand and evaluate subsurface features that could trigger CO2 migration and containment losses as well as introduce additional safety, reputational...

Energy Analytics Energy Transition
ByRyan Luther

Anyone who thinks spending time at a public charging station is a blocker to buying an electric vehicle (EV) might want to consider the numbers behind EV and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle refueling times. The answer is that it...

Enverus Blog - 6 tax preparation tips for mineral and royalty managers
Energy Analytics
BySilas Martin

Recent years have been a roller coaster for mineral buyers, from record low commodity prices to highs for oil and natural gas in the last year. Going forward, challenges and opportunities will be plentiful. We expect oil prices between $80...

Power and Renewables
ByKenneth Curtis

It’s that time of year when generator and transmission outages are at their peak in PJM. The first half of April has not disappointed volatility-wise as the WHUB/NIHUB spread has set new 30-day highs largely driven by congestion. Figure 1:...

Enverus Blog - April's energy outlook: Analyst insights you can't miss
Analyst Takes Energy Analytics
ByChris Griggs

May marks a new month, and it’s essential to assess the energy landscape of April. Our Enverus Intelligence® | Research (EIR) team has scrutinized critical trends and advancements, delivering to you insightful analyst takes that can shape your business decisions....

Energy Analytics
ByCayley Krynowsky

Inventory is king in 2023. Operators and investors alike are more concerned than ever about remaining inventory – who has it, where is it, and will it be economic? To answer these questions, most turn to the tried-and-true, but also...

Let’s get started!

We’ll follow up right away to show you a quick product tour.

Let’s get started!

We’ll follow up right away to show you a quick product tour.

Sign up for our Blog

Access Product Tour

Speak to an Expert

Book a Demo