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Looking toward the future, I'm sure most Argentinians have their eyes set on the 2014 World Cup. The country's national team is quite often mentioned as a serious contender to bring the Cup back to a South American country. Brazil estimates that more than 600,000 visitors will make their way there for the festivities, and some will undoubtedly filter over to Argentina. However, while the increase in tourism next June and July is likely to help the country's economy a bit, it won't come close to what Argentina's shale oil and natural gas reserves will probably contribute over a much longer time horizon.
Climbing the ranks
As the eighth largest country in the world, Argentina just might have some meaningful energy reserves located deep beneath its soil. The question of how meaningful was answered this week, in the Energy Information Administration's release of its study of 41 countries' shale reserves. Much to its delight, I'm sure, the country well known for La Albiceleste ranked fourth in total recoverable shale oil reserves and second in shale natural gas.
This news is obviously great for a country that's been struggling with its ability to keep up with increased energy demand, along with some pretty serious bouts of inflation recently. But what does it mean for the energy companies that have been risking capital to explore for these reserves? Well, following the country's nationalization of YPF (NYSE: YPF ) from Repsol last May, it needed some form of positive news to woo companies back.
Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) has obviously taken notice, because it now has plans to invest up to $1.5 billion with YPF to develop its Vaca Muerta field. One would be hard pressed to fault Chevron for its interest here. The industry believes that as much as 308 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 16 billion barrels of oil rest in this formation alone. That's more shale oil in one field than all of Venezuela is forecast to have and more shale gas than Russia's predicted bounty.
What else is there?
For investors, there are several other companies that have shown a willingness to engage with Argentina in hopes of turning this black gold into greenbacks. Apache (NYSE: APA ) is one global energy company that has carved out a sizable chunk for itself of the Neuquen basin, which houses the Vaca Muerta field. The company currently owns around 1.3 million acres here, or around half of what YPF has marked off for itself. The EIA has said that up to 800 million barrels of recoverable shale oil could be produced in this area. Apache estimates that its proven reserves in Argentina total 102 million barrels of oil equivalent, or around 3% of its global total. As overall estimates continue climbing, Apache's business there probably will as well. Its plans to spend around $200 million there this year could be just the start.
For those of you who'd like to invest in a company that's an expert in shale oil and gas development but don't want the risk held by the producer, Halliburton (NYSE: HAL ) makes perfect sense here. The energy services company has made tremendous inroads in the country and has participated in drilling activities in some of Argentina's most successful unconventional wells so far. Just last month, it signed a deal with Capex, an electricity provider, to drill 11 wells in the vaunted Vaca Muerta field. If this activity keeps up, Latin America will probably begin contributing much more than just 13% of revenue, as it did last year.
With its domestic business having taken a hit in the recent past because of a slowdown in the natural gas drilling boom of the past couple of years, Halliburton undoubtedly hopes that Argentina begins to prop up its international business. However, as the North American market looks to rebound, investors would be wise to consider Halliburton, one of the top companies in the business and one of those most in tune with the domestic market. To access The Motley Fool's new premium research report on this industry stalwart, simply click here now and learn everything you need to know about how Halliburton is positioning itself both at home and abroad.
Judging by the pedigree of these companies, Argentina and its potential are being taken very seriously. So while Lionel Messi might be a front runner for the Golden Boot award next summer, I would expect the boots digging for black gold to be the real winners down south.