Latest Vaca Muerta oil production data, analysis and forecasting.
Enverus Prism provides essential up-to-date basin maps, rig counts, oil lease data, drilling and well production information for energy traders, financiers and E&P operators.
Vaca Muerta Basin in Argentina’s Neuquén Basin (Figure 1) is at the forefront of shale plays being targeted outside of North America and has a stratigraphic similitude to some U.S. shale plays. Vaca Muerta oil exploration data analysis is comparable to that of the highly productive Permian Basin in Texas. The play has been attracting surveying and appraisal efforts from major global operators all over the world, with YPF, TOT, BP, CNOOC, CVX, SHEL, EQNR and Petronas all having interests in the play.
Like some of its U.S. shale peers, Vaca Muerta’s formation is thick with stacked intervals, creating decades of high-quality drilling inventory. While most of the production to date has been focused on oil weighted wells, the play spans different hydrocarbon windows, creating opportunity for both oil and gas production depending on commodity pricing. Since the play shares many geological similarities to U.S. shale plays, Vaca Muerta operators can leverage insights from those plays to expedite the development curve.
For info on oil and gas production data beyond Vaca Muerta, visit our Global Oil and Gas Data page.
FIGURE 1 | Map of the Vaca Muerta formation in the Neuquén Basin, Argentina
The geological formation can be separated into the Lower, Middle, and Upper intervals. In the core of the basin, the The Lower Vaca Muerta is characterized by calcareous and organic-rich Type II kerogen shale, overlain by bituminous marls and shales of the Middle Vaca Muerta which are capped by limestones interbedded with marls and shales of the Upper Vaca Muerta. The Lower and Middle intervals are targeted mainly for their high effective porosities, high total organic content and low water saturations. Higher clay content within the Lower interval decreases its brittleness and fracability relative to the Middle and Upper intervals and likely warrants more intensive completions to sufficiently stimulate the reservoir.
Across the basin, the Lower interval expresses little lithologic variance. This contrasts with the Middle and Upper intervals, which see changes in carbonate, clay and organic carbon content controlled by regional proximity to the northeast platform. To the northwest, the formation thickens but decreases in porosity and total organic content, resulting in increased water saturations (Figure 2). When compared to other world class shale plays, like those in the Permian, the play has the makings to become a successful unconventional: an organic-rich source rock, an over-pressured reservoir and favorable thermal characteristics, kerogen type, porosity and permeability that translate to high productivity and economic repeatability.
FIGURE 2 | Vaca Muerta Basin Cross-Section Along Depositional Dip
While vertical drilling in Vaca Muerta dates to 2007, it wasn’t until 2015 that horizontal drilling started to take off, ultimately peaking in 2018 (Figure 3) with 208 wells drilled. Since that peak, well performance in the play has continued to improve (Figure 4), with high rig count, active oil leases and estimated ultimate recoveries (EURs) reaching an average of 147 Mbbl/1,000’ in 2020. The Vaca Muerta formation is considered a young play, with operators still delineating the core, well designs still being optimized and the full inventory potential yet to be evaluated, so there is strong reason to believe that EURs have yet to peak. Compared to most of the unconventional plays in the L48, Vaca Muerta oil production is in its early days and may be one of the last remaining oil shale plays to be exploited.
FIGURE 3 | Vaca Muerta Drilling Through Time
FIGURE 4 | Horizontal Vaca Muerta Well Performance Through Time
Most of the horizontal well drilling activity has been focused in the Loma Campana area, which dominates the oil production growth profile for the play. This section of the basin has an increasing number of concessions and blocks being developed, significantly increasing Argentina oil and gas production. Historically, the most active operator is YPF, the majority state-owned Argentine company. With the largest Vaca Muerta rig count and nearly 800 horizontal wells drilled there from 2015 to 2021, YPF’s activity dwarfs its peers in the play (Figure 5). However, in the last two years, activity has started to diversify with other operators like Pan American, TTE and VIST, as well as international players like SHEL, CVX, EQNR and Petronas that are in non-operated positions with YPF.
FIGURE 5 | Horizontal Wells Drilled in Vaca Muerta Basin 2015–2021
In the last five years, Vaca Muerta oil production focus has been primarily on the oily parts of the play, causing oil production from the basin’s oil wells to surpass 150 Mbbl/d, a staggering 600% increase (Figure 6). In contrast, natural gas production has declined to about 1.2 Bcf/d from a peak of 1.4 Bcf/d in 2019. This pivot away from gassy assets within the basin is due largely to poor local pricing caused by an unsuccessful government subsidy campaign and an ensuing heightened focus by Argentina oil and gas operators on oil developments (Figure 7).
FIGURE 6 | Vaca Muerta Oil and Gas Production by Operator
FIGURE 5 | Vaca Muerta Oil Production Through Time
The biggest challenges for Vaca Muerta in its quest to reach forecasted oil production growth targets will be access to markets for both crude oil and LNG exports and attracting the required capital. Despite favorable well performance and economics, current above ground risks – primarily risk from capital controls and other onerous government policies in Argentina. The country is in a state of economic crisis – enough to dissuade investors and limit Argentina oil and gas production in Vaca Muerta.
Vaca Muerta is one of the fastest growing shale plays today, and recent wells have higher peak oil production rates and lower declines than seen in the Permian’s Delaware Basin (Figure 8). Today, the high productivity is offset by high well costs, affecting rig counts. However, through structural improvements and the application of learnings from U.S. plays, costs have been declining and therefore grabbing the attention from the biggest oil and gas operators around the world. SHEL, COP, EQNR and CVX have increased their positions in the Vaca Muerta basin since 2019, gaining close to 100,000 net acres while not relinquishing or selling any acreage over that same time. Together with TTE, XOM and BP, the supermajors hold more than one million net acres of oil leases in the play.
Improved production and lower costs ultimately make this one of the last remaining undeveloped unconventional plays that competes on an economic basis with those of the L48. Figure 9 shows that at the current drilling pace, there are more than 100 years of remaining oil reserve inventory, with half of that breaking even below $50/bbl WTI.
FIGURE 8 | Permian Versus Vaca Muerta Type Curves Through Time
FIGURE 9 | Vaca Muerta Inventory and Breakevens
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