Argentina won the geological lottery
Shale formations often resemble layer cakes, with shale squeezed between layers of unproductive rock. "But Vaca Muerta is like one big cake, 305 meters thick in places, which means one well can be much more productive," said Mr. Robertson.
Some studies indicate Argentina is sitting atop a shale bounty that could transform the outlook for the Western Hemisphere's supply and secure the country's energy self-sufficiency for decades.
"What we've seen with YPF has been positive so far. Their per-well costs are coming down. And the provincial governments in the area of Vaca Muerta understand oil development. They support it. So that's one less barrier. One of the unique things about Vaca Muerta from an international perspective is that it is in an area where you've already got oil industry activity," said Mr. Robertson.
Many communities object to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, by which water, sand and chemicals are injected deep into shale fields to unlock hydrocarbons.
"There is already an established oil industry in the region where the shale is. You've got service companies, you've got pipelines and infrastructure," he added. "You've got existing assets that do not need to be recreated. Plus you've also got a head start in that you have knowledge of the rocks." ■