Argentina’s dreams of oil independence are in jeopardy. Oil company YPF (NYSE:YPF), which became Argentinian- owned after the government expropriated the 51 percent that belonged to Spanish oil giant Repsol (MCE:REP), is still looking for partners to exploit the potentially huge Vaca Muerta site. That's despite a threat by Repsol of lawsuits against any company that signs a deal with YPF.
After making plans with Chevron (NYSE:CVX), YPF is now in advanced negotiations with French oil company Total (EPA:FP). The two companies share several drilling sites in the Argentinean province of Neuquén, but not yet Vaca Muerta. According to YPF, the deal as it stands right now would have the Argentinians doing the perforations, and then the French would operate the wells.
Argentina discovered the existence of non-conventional oil reserves in Vaca Muerta last year, which prompted the Argentinian government to nationalize Repsol’s assets in an effort to keep all the expected profits home. However, YPF still does not know the size of the reserves and it is just working with estimates. The company also admits to being strapped for cash: “We need more players in Vaca Muerta. To meet the goal, which could be up to 600 million barrels a day, we will need billions of dollars,” said a YPF spokesperson quoted by Spanish newspaper El País.
In previous statements, YPF said that it would need around $37 billion in the next four years to exploit the potential of Vaca Muerta.
YPF has closed two deals to date, the one with Chevron and a much smaller one with Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW). Chevron will invest $920 million to extract oil, but it also included a clause in the deal that left the American company to decide whether it would continue after a pilot project scheduled for 2014. Should the partnership continue, the total investment will be around $16 billion to exploit just 3 percent of the site. Chevron would give all control to Argentina.
Dow Chemical’s Argentinian unit signed an accord to invest $188 million; Dow will provide $120 million over a year, while YPF will invest $68 million to develop 16 wells, Bloomberg reported.
The agreements are unpopular in Argentina, where citizens fear that they will give away the goal of energy independence.
YPF did not give much importance to Repsol's threat to sue any and all companies that partner with YPF -- despite the fact that the Spanish company has already filed suit in a New York court over the Chevron agreement. Nevertheless, the Argentines said they hope to reach an agreement with Repsol before the end of the year.