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Argentina green-lights seismic survey of three offshore blocks

Argentina’s government has given YPF, the national oil company (NOC), and its partners a green light to proceed with seismic work at three offshore blocks in the South Atlantic.

Energy Secretary Dario Martinez revealed on January 3 that Buenos Aires had approved the companies’ environmental impact statements for the CAN 100, CAN 108 and CAN 114 licence areas. The documents outline the partners’ plans to collect seismic data from the blocks, which are all located in the North Argentina basin east of the city of Mar del Plata, without unduly disrupting local marine life and economic activity such as fishing, he noted.

According to Martinez, YPF aims to work together with Equinor (Norway) and Shell (UK) to search for natural gas at the offshore sites. Commercial discoveries would boost Argentina’s reserves and make the country less reliant on imports, in line with state policy, he said.

For his part, Pablo Gonzalez, the president of YPF, stressed that the project had the potential to help reduce Argentina’s carbon dioxide emissions. The country’s offshore zone may hold as much gas as the Vaca Muerta shale formation, and gaining access to these resources would facilitate a switch to cleaner-burning fuels, he said.

Additionally, Gonzalez said, offshore discoveries could give a boost to Argentina’s economy. If YPF and its partners find commercial reserves offshore, they may be able to create more than 20,000 jobs, he stated.

Other observers took a less positive view. For example, Guillermo Montenegro, the mayor of Mar del Plata, expressed concern about the potential risks of offshore exploration. If the exploration project leads to offshore drilling and spills, he said, Mar del Plata will be at risk of losing its reputation as a tourist destination with pristine beaches. Exploration and production operations could also disrupt the fishing industry, which is a major component of the local economy, he added.

Martinez, meanwhile, stressed that Argentina had been engaging in offshore exploration and drilling work for more than 50 years without any environmental incidents or accidents that compromised the physical safety of workers. “From the Ministry of Energy and in tune with a responsible and committed national government, we are going to verify that all operations in the energy framework are carried out with the most demanding international standards of environmental care,” he commented.