The following is an interview with Max Torres, Founder at upstream oil and gas consulting firm Plata Energy, where we discuss Argentina’s hydrocarbons sector and maximizing its potential, the company’s technical and commercial practices implemented in Latin America, M&As in the region, the importance of local content, challenges that must be overtaken by Argentina in order to progress, and the company’s main objectives in the short-to-medium term.
What does Plata Energy’s oilfield data currently say about the Argentinian hydrocarbons sector, and how can it be used in order to maximize operational potential?
Argentina needs to better regulate its oil and gas sector to attract new investments, so as to realize its potential. Two great hydrocarbon provinces await to fulfill production greatness, that is the offshore and the unconventional play, mainly Vaca Muerta in Neuquén. Without proper and reliable regulation oil and gas activity will not take off and reserves will be left in the ground along with the immense economic value that could help remediate Argentina’s current worries. For example, if Vaca Muerta were in Texas, it would be producing north of two million barrels per day by now.
How are Plata Energy’s technical, commercial practices currently assisting the Argentinian hydrocarbons sector?
Plata Energy currently is not engaged in any projects in Argentina, although our founders and many of our professional staff are Argentines. Plata Energy is a consulting group for the E&P industry covering a wide range of integrated practices from the subsurface to the commercial and legal with focus in the Americas, with a core in Latin America. We have completed important E&P valuation projects in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico ranging from technical evaluation and commercial valuation, production acquisitions, bidding advisors, legal expert witness, field development plans, enhanced and secondary recovery, reserves assessment and exploration proposals. Our list of clients includes a range from large Oil and Gas independents, legal, private equity and consulting firms, to the small independent trying to acquire their next property. Please visit our website for a list of our clients.
Where does Plata Energy see the greatest room for consulting growth in the Americas, specially Argentina?
Plata Energy was founded in 2019 by Carlos Garibaldi (Chairman) and myself and was envisioned to occupy an advisory niche for the medium to small oil and gas operators or contractors seeking growth in a secondary market or through organic drilling that can’t afford to have a permanent stable E&P or commercial/legal staff onboard. We observed an active M&A transaction market in onshore Brazil and more recently in onshore Mexico. Activity is increasingly visible in Ecuador where the government has announced several bid rounds for marginal fields, shut-in clusters or gas fields. New discoveries were recently announced in the IntraCampos blocks and the government is seeking to double its output in 5 years. Colombia is always attractive with a well-developed industry and variety of plays and operators to choose from and several new discoveries were announced offshore and onshore, specially in gas plays. Argentina is slowly recovering its shale production but a history of erratic or contradictory policies and a poor contractual and legal track record, makes this comeback challenging. Investors knowing the potential of the Vaca Muerta play are keen to make a move, but without the right conditions, other countries and plays are going to be the target in the near future.
To what extent could we expect significant M&As in the Americas in the coming years?
In the recent price cycle a new incentive to acquire production has renewed interest in the E&P. Plata Energy understands that shale plays in the United States will attract some attention with additional mergers and shut in wells rehabilitation. Brazil is the preferred target for large and medium domestic companies to increase their positions and portfolios, with focus in new provinces in the offshore such as Espirito Santo and Potiguar basins, where undrilled or contingent reserves are expected to be found. Mexico, despite the lack of new rounds or new incentives to investors, is showing remarkable success in new prospects in the offshore Sureste basin, where companies like Repsol, Eni and Pan American are showing their teeth. An incipient but active secondary market is moving some players to gain a strong position, and Pemex favors the development of new reserves. Mexico has a large potential to be developed both onshore and offshore with the right set of measures, increased security and technology from service companies. A migration to a Production Sharing Contract from the old Service Contract could make a difference in Mexico, and some steps are being taken by the administration to make it happen.
Given your expertise, what is the importance of continuously training local content?
We believe that local staff and content should be the future recipients of the expertise and technology transfer from the majors and independents to be the leaders and the workforce of the future. Unfortunately our industry comes from a decade of low prices and investment starvation that makes it difficult to train and develop an efficient local industry. Hopefully the oil and gas industry will recover its prestige and skills to be one of the engines of growth for undeveloped countries.
Besides Vaca Muerta, what are the most significant hydrocarbons projects in Argentina, and how do you see them moving forward in the 2022-2023 period?
Argentina is a mature country from the E&P perspective and not many opportunities are left onshore where all the large fields are experiencing important declines and large secondary recovery projects have been implemented. Some independent companies are making progress in the gas plays in the Magallanes basin where the offshore still present some opportunities. Without a doubt the large continental shelf should be the focus of a major effort to investigate by seismic and drill bit the undiscovered potential, still elusive. This last frontier is mainly undrilled compared to our neighbors Brazil. The exploration efforts in Argentina again, lack the right systematic and reliable policies that make the exploration a successful tool in our industry. YPF should devote more resources and budget to these efforts, since foreign companies need assurances to place risk capital in a poorly managed country.