Latin America’s rig count crashed in April as the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the region’s oil and gas patch.
The region had 89 active rigs in April, down from 190 in the year-ago period. Eighty rigs were shed in Latin America in April compared to March, according to Baker Hughes Co. (BKR) data.
As Latin America saw significant declines, Mexico charged ahead on its plans to try to grow oil and gas production, despite April oil prices that were so low that they went negative on April 20.
Mexico had 46 active rigs in April, compared to 44 in March. In April 2019, Mexico had 35 active rigs.
Late last month, Mexico’s government threw its backing behind state oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), and agreed to measures including a fiscal relief decree pertaining to the profit-sharing duty in an attempt to mitigate the impact of falling oil prices on the balance sheet and liquidity. In total, these measures amount to 156 billion pesos ($6.5 billion), executives said.
While Pemex in the end agreed to slash capital expenditures (capex) for the year in the upstream segment by around $1.7 billion, or about 13%, this puts it firmly on the lower end of national oil company and supermajor capex cuts, according to analysis from Welligence Energy Analytics.
Executives at Pemex said they have now achieved their goal of stabilizing years of declines in oil production and that the company is “on a path of production growth and increasing the crude oil processing levels of our refineries.” They also claimed that production costs at the new priority fields are below $5/bbl.
In the first quarter Pemex liquids production rose 2.7% year/year to 1.76 million b/d, compared with 1.67 million b/d in the first quarter of 2019. Natural gas production also stabilized, averaging 3.74 Bcf/d, up 1.9% from a year earlier. The government aims to hit 2.7 million b/d of crude production by 2024.
Even exploration news from private companies has been hot lately in Mexico. On Wednesday, Qatar Petroleum said it has entered into three farm-in agreements to acquire about 30% of Total SA’s participating interest in blocks 15, 33 and 34 in the Campeche Basin, offshore Mexico. Qatar also has acreage in Argentina, Brazil and Guyana.
Meanwhile, a consortium led by Spain’s Repsol SA on Monday announced two deepwater oil discoveries at Mexico’s offshore Block 29 in the Salina Basin. The discoveries come two years after upstream regulator Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos (CNH) awarded the block to Repsol and its partners in the Round 2.4 bidding process.
Colombia had only four active rigs in April, compared to 25 in March, while Brazil shed four, to 13 rigs running during April. National oil company Ecopetrol SA of Colombia has cut 2020 capex by $1.2 billion, and Brazil’s Petróleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) has cut its capex by $3.5 billion, or about on average with peers, according to Welligence.
Venezuela also saw a sharp drop in the rig count, with 14 rigs active in April, down from 25 in March.
However, it is Argentina that has been hit the worst. The country’s rig count dropped to zero in April as activity ground to a halt from the country’s stringent lockdown that has kept citizens, and oil and gas workers, at home.
The nationwide lockdown put in place in the middle of March to slow the spread of the coronavirus is ongoing; the government has said it will announce news of changes to the restrictions – if any — next week.
Western Argentina is home to the vast Vaca Muerta shale deposit, hailed by many as one of the best unconventional oil and gas prospects outside of the United States.
“In Vaca Muerta, there was no activity for drilling rigs and frac sets during April,” Wood Mackenzie Argentina analyst Igancio Rooney told NGI’s Mexico GPI. “These operations have been affected by the quarantine measures at a national level. It’s not good news for the sector, as growth projections have been curtailed under a scenario of depressed demand.”
The oil and gas sector in Argentina already had seen slowing activity since the government changed hands last year. According to data from BKR, Argentina had 38 oil and gas rigs running in March, compared with 65 in March 2019.
The collapse in the oil price has not helped.
Tulsa-based rig specialist Helmerich & Payne CFO Mark Smith said in the company’s first quarter earnings call last week that Argentina was suffering from the “local macroeconomic situation and roll-off of legacy contracts,” but “the recent oil price declines have exacerbated and accelerated the pace of that decline.”
The lack of demand has led to operators shutting in wells and reducing production.
In April, state oil firm Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales SA (YPF) reportedly was said to be shutting in half of its estimated 40,000 b/d production at its flagship Loma Campana field in Vaca Muerta because of a lack of storage and plummeting demand.
YPF partners with U.S. supermajor Chevron Corp. at Loma Campana. Vista Oil & Gas, Royal Dutch Shell plc and ExxonMobil also have all reportedly shut-in some of their Argentine wells.
In response, the government has said it is close to proposing a regulated price for oil in Argentina, known as the “criollo” barrel, but analysts have warned that it was in fact the lifting of market interventionist policies such as price fixing in 2016 that actually stimulated investment in Vaca Muerta in the first place.
“Going forward, both drilling and completions could ramp up again under a scenario of a more flexible quarantine,” Rooney said. “However, demand will also need to be there to ensure that the market is balanced. Operators may also be selective on how much they increase their upstream activity, and probably the contracting strategy adopted for drilling and completions services will play an important role in this decision too.”
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