The exploitation of oil in the Argentine sea collides with environmentalists

Platform of the Norwegian oil company Equinor in the North SeaINTS KALNINS (REUTERS)

Oil is at its highest price since 2014 and producing companies are looking for new territories to conquer. The Argentine sea is one of the coveted: the Government of Alberto Fernández has at least 15 requests for oil exploration in its waters on the table, according to the Ministry of Energy. In the last week of December, he authorized this activity in three blocks of the North Argentina Basin (CAN) located between 307 and 443 kilometers from the coast of the city of Mar del Plata.

However, this development collides with the growing concern for the environment in Argentina, a country of great extension and vast natural resources. Critics of the project have organized protest demonstrations and they have also tried to paralyze the project in the courts. After a first ruling in favor of the environmentalists, another judge put it on hold this Friday until a court of second instance resolves the underlying issue, leaving the door open to an activity that divides waters in Argentina.

The authorities of the South American country assure that the objective is to recover energy sovereignty and thus have the currency that is used today to buy gas abroad. In 2021, imports of fuel and lubricants were 11% of the total, for an amount of 5,843 million dollars, and the energy deficit amounted to almost 700 million dollars. They also consider that, if oil is found, it would be a great source of new jobs.

“Today our country has reached the peak of conventional oil and gas production. We depend on the development of the unconventional resources of Vaca Muerta and the resources of the submarine platform”, says the Undersecretary of Hydrocarbons, Maggie Videla, defending the project. The search for oil on the high seas runs in parallel with the improvement of energy transport infrastructure, such as the construction of a new gas pipeline that is scheduled to come into operation in the winter of 2023.

Videla stresses that Argentina has been exploiting hydrocarbons for 50 years offshore in the southern basin, that is, off the coast of Tierra del Fuego and Santa Cruz (in the extreme south of the country), and from there comes almost 20% of the gas produced today in Argentina. The Hydra deposit, the oldest of all, is only thirteen kilometers from the coast.

The new state concession will allow the Norwegian oil company Equinor to explore three areas, although in the largest of them, CAN 100 —of 15,000 square kilometers— it will do so in association with the Argentine state company YPF and the Anglo-Dutch Shell and in another, CAN 114, only to YPF.

He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.


Those who oppose the initiative denounce that the existing exploitation —carried out at a depth of less than one hundred meters— cannot be compared with that projected in the North Argentina Basin, where the authorized exploration is in waters more than 1,500 meters deep. Environmentalists also point out that the initiative goes against the energy transition towards which most countries in the world are heading and the environmental commitments acquired by Argentina.

In January, more than 300 artists and intellectuals expressed their rejection of the initiative. “That is not sovereignty. Sovereignty is taking care of our sea, our populations and our territories”, they point out in a document signed by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the mother of Plaza de Mayo Nora Cortiñas, the actor Ricardo Darín and the writers Gabriela Cabezón Cámara and Samanta Schweblin, among others.

“You do not close your eyes, look,” they warn. “Look at the repeated promises of officials and businessmen on TV when they tell you that ‘now there is a Ministry that is going to control’ ‘that this has already been done many times, that it will not be noticed, that the oil on the beaches is not is going to arrive, that nothing bad is going to happen, that there are no animals where they are going to bomb and then drill’”. They recall that in the public hearing prior to the state authorization, more than 400 people, including marine scientists, warned that “the intensity of the sound of the acoustic bombardment for seismic exploration is enough to destroy the eardrums, and that there, where the they want to explode, there is a biological corridor in which whales feed, dolphins swim, penguins migrate”.

From the Secretary of Energy they admit that the exploration has negative consequences for the marine fauna and for the fishing activity, but they emphasize that the environmental impact studies include plans to minimize them as much as possible.

The pre-agreement negotiated with the International Monetary Fund to restructure the debt of 44,000 million has among its bases the promotion of exports, so it is expected that the Government will encourage activities such as hydrocarbon exploitation and mining despite the significant social rejection that generate. Last year, massive protests in the province of Mendoza (west) and in Chubut (south) forced the provincial authorities to back down on mining projects. The national Executive does not seem willing to give in.

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The exploitation of oil in the Argentine sea collides with environmentalists