Some parameters of Vaca Muerta field resemble the most known geological formations of North America. As per the estimates by McKinsey, the organic carbon content makes from 3% to 10%, which is close to that of the Bakken formation (4%-20%; the higher the share, the higher potential well flow rate) in North Dakota and Montana (the USA) and in Saskatchewan and Manitoba provinces (Canada). In terms of the reservoir thickness (for 50 to 450 m) Vaca Muerta is close to the Midland formation (from 45 to 450 m), in terms of the depth of occurrence (from 1,700 to 3,500 m) – to the Barnett formation (from 1,700 to 3,000 m), and in terms of the occupied area (30 thou sq. m) – to the Delaware formation(26 thou sq. m). The Barnett formation is part of the Bend Arch–Fort Worth basin located on the border of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Midland and Delaware formations belong to the perm basin, the biggest region of shale hydrocarbons production in the USA covering Western Texas and South-Eastern New Mexico.
In addition to the geological parameters, Vaca Muerta is comparable to the shale formations in the USA from the standpoint of production economics as well. As per the McKinsey estimates, the breakeven point for oil production at Vaca Muerta is the price threshold of USD 36 per bbl, and for gas production – USD 57 per kcm. For the most shale formations in the USA, the production is economically feasible at the oil price within the range between USD 34 and 51 per bbl, and at the gas price within the range between USD 47 and 64 per kcm. The physical and chemical profiles of the extracted feedstock are also similar: sulfur content in Vaca Muerta oil is 0.5%, while as for Bakken and Eagle Ford oil it is respectively 0.1% and 0.2%. Low sulfur content should provide for high yields of light petroleum products including aviation kerosene and naphtha, the consumption of which will be growing during the next years thanks to revival of air transportation and rapid development of the petrochemical industry.
According to the forecast by Rystad Energy, oil production at Vaca Muerta may grow from the current level of slightly below 300 thou bbl per day up to 1 mln bbl per day in 2030. However, for that the number of wells brough on stream annually needs to almost double (from 224 wells in 2023 up to 435 wells in 2030). The production increment will be depending on the transportation infrastructure development: in particular, on upgrading the OLDELVAL pipeline system, one of the branches of which will be used for supplying the Vaca Muerta oil to the Coronel Rosales seaport in the Buenos Aires province, as well as on building the Vaca Muerta Sur oil pipeline with the throughput of 340 thou bbl per day, which the state-owned company YPF intends to implement. These branches will supplement the OTASA oil pipeline with a throughput of almost 110 thou bbl per day commissioned this year for transporting oil from Argentina to Chile.
Overall, the development of the Vaca Muerta formation will allow for Argentina to join the top three leading countries of Latin America in terms of the oil production increment rate. In addition to Argentina, it will also include Guyana intending to increase its supply of oil by 2027 from the current 400 thou bbl per day up to 1.2 mln bbl per day thanks to bringing on stream the floating production/storage/shipping units (FPSO) at the Stabroek block, and Brazil intending to increase its production by early 2030s from 3 mln bbl per day up to 5 mln bbl per day thanks to the development of the Arctic continental shelf.