Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales (YPF) SA, Argentina's newly state-owned energy company, announced Friday that it had signed a two-year, $1.5 billion agreement with Bridas Corp. to explore and drill for oil in two of the country's shale plays.

According to reports, the agreement calls for YPF to transfer a 50% stake in the Bajada del Anelo and Bandurria fields to Bridas. Both fields are located in the Vaca Muerta formation, which is located in Neuquen province.

YPF will reportedly cede 663 square kilometers (256 square miles) total -- 201 square kilometers (77.6 square miles) in the Bajada del Anelo field, and 462 square kilometers (178.4 square miles) in the Bandurria field -- to Bridas, an independent oil and gas company also based in Argentina.

"The project of shale oil and shale gas that will be launched in 2013 will include a program of accelerated delineation, and a [pilot well program] for a total of 130 wells that will be drilled over the next two years," YPF said in a translated statement. "Most of the development will be nonconventional oil, but [it is] also expected that a part [will explore for] wet gas.

"The operation will be developed jointly, with both YPF and Bridas hoping to take advantage of each other's potential and know-how in the development of shale."

Argentina's shale reserves are estimated to be the world's third-largest. In April 2011, an initial assessment of world shale gas resources conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Agency reported that Argentina holds 774 Tcf of technically recoverable shale gas resources (see Shale Daily, April 7, 2011). That figure represents about 11.6% of the world's total (6,622 Tcf) and is just below the reserves in the United States, which were estimated at 862 Tcf.

In July 2012, the EIA said the Vaca Muerta formation held an estimated 741 million bbl of recoverable shale oil. Spain's Repsol has made similar claims, reporting that the formation holds a total of 927 million boe of recoverable oil and natural gas (see Shale Daily, Nov. 10, 2011).

The Argentine government nationalized YPF in April, a decision that reduced Repsol's stake in the company from 57% to 6% and triggered a credit crunch for the Spanish company (see Shale Daily, April 25, 2012).

Chevron has about 110,000 leased acres in Argentina's shale plays, while an ExxonMobil subsidiary has signed on to an agreement on 163,500 gross acres in Neuquen province (see Shale Daily, March 14, 2012; Aug. 31, 2011).

China's CNOOC Ltd. (China National Offshore Oil Corp.) and Bridas Energy Holdings Ltd. each own a 50% stake in Bridas.