Since 2014, Wintershall has held a 90 percent share in the Aguada Federal block in the Neuquén province in Argentina and is the operator here. Together with the local state-owned energy company Gas y Petróleo del Neuquén S.A. (GyP), Wintershall wants to investigate the block and if possible develop it further. The block also contains promising shale in the Vaca Muerta formation. The reservoir is situated between 2,700 and 3,000 meters underground.
The geological formation Vaca Muerta, situated in the Argentinean province Neuquén, is particularly important. It is one of the largest shale gas and shale oil formations worldwide: the EIA estimates that the formation has recoverable reserves of 16.2 billion barrels of oil and 8.7 trillion cubic meters of gas. The formation covers an area of 30,000 km2 at a depth of about 3,000 meters and has generally between 150 and 600 meters thickness and a high content of Total Organic Carbon (TOC). All technical specifications of the Vaca Muerta shale compare well with the already proven shale in the US.
The exploration and production of unconventional energy resources poses major technological challenges. Wintershall is in an excellent position to master these challenges owing to its many decades of experience in environmentally responsible and efficient production from complex reservoirs, and thanks to its specialist technological expertise in the production of tight gas in Germany.
In March 2015 Wintershall had launched a first exploration well in the central Argentinean province Neuquén in the own-operated Aguada Federal block. Shortly after a first well a second exploration well followed. Together with the local state-owned energy company Gas y Petróleo del Neuquén S.A. (GyP), Germany’s largest, internationally active crude oil and natural gas producer intends to investigate the promising block and continue with its development.
The vertical exploration wells aimed to provide important information about the characteristics of the crude oil and natural gas reservoir, which includes promising shale rock of the so-called “Vaca Muerta” formation. After drilling two vertical exploration wells, Wintershall is currently drilling the first shale oil pilot project consisting of four horizontal wells with lateral length of 1000 meters each.
Wintershall has been active in the Neuquén province for over 20 years and has so far produced oil and gas there from various conventional and tight gas reservoirs. Wintershall holds shares in the blocks San Roque (since 1994), Aguada Pichana (since 1996) and Bandurria (since 2001; now Bandurria Norte).The three neighboring blocks also show potential for shale oil and gas as they are located in the region of the very promising Vaca Muerta formation. Here too further wells are drilled now to investigate this potential more closely.
Harnessing the great potential of unconventional resources
Argentina has potential: alongside the USA, Argentina is one of the most important growth regions in the field of unconventional oil and gas production.
The South American country has the second-largest shale gas reservoirs and the fourth-largest shale oil reservoirs in the world. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), there are 23 trillion cubic meters of shale gas in Argentina, which equals 11 percent of the global shale gas reserves. Argentina also has the fourth-largest shale oil reserves worldwide with 27 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe). Shale oil and shale gas are embedded in the compact rock where they were formed. In contrast to conventional and tight gas reserves they were not able to migrate to higher and more permeable rock strata.
That is why horizontal wells and hydraulic stimulation (hydraulic fracturing) are necessary to extract this oil and gas. So far, around 400 shale wells in the entire Vaca Muerta region have been drilled.