Argentina Mulls Oil Price Controls in Bill to Tap Shale Trove

Argentina’s government is pushing for long-term oil price controls as the South American nation runs out of time to unearth a shale trove in Patagonia.

The idea of setting a ceiling and floor on domestic crude prices is being written into draft legislation aimed at spurring oil-and-gas investments, Production Minister Matias Kulfas said in a Thursday interview. A cap would prevent bull runs in oil markets from triggering a surge in fuel prices. And -- crucially for Argentina’s shale ambitions -- a floor would discourage major oil companies from pulling out of a marginal asset like the burgeoning Vaca Muerta if markets collapse.

Argentina Mulls Oil Price Controls in Bill to Tap Shale Trove

“What we want structurally is a solution that foresees the problems of volatility,” Kulfas said.

The administration of President Alberto Fernandez is in the midst of drafting the bill, which will be sent to congress this year for debate among lawmakers. Enacting controls by law would send a clear signal about the rules under which drillers can produce oil in Argentina in the coming years when the specter of peak demand threatens to keep vast resources buried in Vaca Muerta.

Drillers are producing 137,500 barrels of crude daily at the largely untapped shale deposit in the southern part of the country, according to newspaper Rio Negro. In comparison, the Permian Basin in the U.S. is expected to produce 4.6 million barrels of crude a day in May.

Argentina is a perennial meddler in energy markets. Just last year, when oil prices tanked, the government priced its crude higher. Companies also recently agreed to help refiners pressured by the government to keep gasoline prices in check.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • Companies that qualify for an export program won’t have to process hard currency through Argentina’s central bank.
  • The government wants to prioritize public transport as it plans a transition to electric vehicles because that’ll help lower its costly subsidies bill.
  • Argentina is likely to end its strictest price controls on consumer goods -- known as Precios Maximos -- in May if it reaches an agreement with companies this month.
    • “If we achieve a successful and satisfactory negotiation for the government, it’s probable that it won’t be extended beyond May 15,” Kulfas said in the wide-ranging interview.
  • Kulfas said March inflation was around 4%.
  • The minister sees a “K-shaped” recovery for Argentina’s economy.
  • The government continues looking for ways to mitigate the impact of global grain rallies on domestic food inflation
    • The crop trading arm of state-run oil company YPF SA is seen playing a role
  • Kulfas responded to comments from an International Monetary Fund official about division within Argentina’s govenrment on economic policy.
    • “I’d say there aren’t differences of opinion, there’s no difference with respect to the strategic path that the country has to have.”

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