BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina’s state-controlled YPF energy company announced on Thursday the discovery of a new reserve of shale gas and oil that could help make the South American country an energy exporter in the years ahead.
“We have for the first time perforated a new ‘mother rock’ in Argentina,” YPF CEO Miguel Galuccio said.
He said the new reserve, located in the provinces of Chubut and Santa Cruz near the Golfo San Jorge, is entirely separate from the vast “Vaca Muerta” or “Dead Cow” reserve that has given Argentina the world’s third-largest shale potential behind the U.S. and China.
Galuccio, who will spend much of September presenting YPF’s growth strategy to major American energy companies, said secrecy regulations bar him from providing estimates of how much crude oil and natural gas might be in the new find.
But he said the discovery could represent another great opportunity for profits from 50-50 partnerships with YPF in the years ahead. Overall, he said, foreign oil companies partnering with YPF can expect a 15 percent to 20 percent return on their investments.
YPF hopes to invest $37.2 billion through the end of 2017, 73 percent of which would be devoted to production, 22 percent to improving refinery capacity and 4 percent to new exploration, Galuccio said while laying out the company’s five-year strategic plan to financial journalists.
Those percentages reflect what sets Argentina apart from many other countries — its reserves are already identified and it already has the pipelines, electricity networks, roads and other infrastructure in place to exploit them.
The trouble is that the government spooked investors by expropriating control of YPF from Spain’s Grupo Repsol in April without paying compensation. Some analysts predict that no big oil company will commit significant new money until Argentina pays the $10.5 billion that Repsol says it’s owed.
After three months as YPF’s CEO, Galuccio has not announced any major new inflow of foreign capital despite repeatedly promising that he will personally do all he can to protect such investments. He acknowledged that “the conflict with Repsol” has scared off some investors.
“I would not hide the fact that after an expropriation there will be people who will wait and see how things develop,” he said. “But we’re a company aligned with a government in a country with a huge potential in oil and gas. I do believe this is the right model.”
Despite providing no clarity on the question of compensating Repsol, Galuccio said YPF is proving it can be a reliable partner.
“We’re showing signs that we’ll be extremely consistent. We’ve honored almost all our debts; we’ve continued to be listed in the New York Stock Exchange,” he said. “I think the fear will disappear over time as long as we show results.”
YPF laid out its challenges in a 400-page legal filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in April that said the company ended 2011 nearly $1.8 billion short of “working cash” and with most of its $12 billion in debts due in less than a year. Much of the debt also was lent under conditions that require immediate repayment if control of the company changes.
But Galuccio denied Thursday that YPF faces a crippling cash crunch. He said that all the debt holders except for Repsol have agreed to delay collecting and that YPF will issue a peso bond in Argentina beginning next week to fund immediate production increases. By the end of the year or in early 2013, the company might even issue bonds internationally, he said.
However, taking on major new debt is not part of YPF’s five-year growth strategy, which aims to reverse production declines, supply Argentina’s growing economy without more expensive fuel imports and even establish Argentina as a net energy exporter.
The plan calls for 70 percent of YPF’s growth to be financed through the sale of Argentina’s own oil and gas. And Argentina can recover its energy capacity without major new foreign investments, if it has to, Galuccio said.