Offshore exploration, onshore reputation

Argentina’s battle for oil goes to the courts.

In Argentina, environmental concerns can often put the blockers on commercial exploration, none more visibly so than in the realm of oil and gas. According to preliminary studies, the hydrocarbon potential of the Argentine Sea, in the vicinity of the City of Mar del Plata, could herald significant fiscal windfall in excess of some USD 32 billion. Environmental concerns have been filed with a court in Buenos Aires – exploratory activities will be halted until further impact studies are carried out.  

An Argentinean geologist with extensive experience in the hydrocarbon sector explained, “Hydrocarbon exploration, in my view, will not cause major environmental damage. But, a ruling will depend ultimately on the view of the Court of Appeals as environmental organisations will drag the process through the courts for as long as possible. I think there is still a lot of judicial and protester activity going on before we can say that the project is definitively going to be progressed.” 

“a ruling will depend ultimately on the view of the Court of Appeals as environmental organisations will drag the process through the courts for as long as possible.”

A geologist with experience in the hydrocarbon sector, Argentina

Although the specialists maintain that in the prospecting and exploration stages, the environmental risks are minimal, the inhabitants of the City of Mar del Plata, together with a group of environmentalists, opposed it, and the matter was transferred to the courts. Although the project was initially halted by a court ruling, a higher court reversed the ban, and as of today, there are no legal or formal impediments to moving forward. But further appeals are on the horizon. 

The tender for the basin in question began during the administration of former president Mauricio Macri and continued during the current one. If environmental impact studies are acceptable, it is expected that in the coming months the first ship from Equinor – an Argentine offshore exploration company – will arrive to begin work. 

The geologist explained further, “The truth is that, in this instance, the environmental risks are minimal. One cannot say that they are non-existent, because there is always a margin, but it is very low. Take, for example, a spill. It is impossible during prospecting or exploration. Yes, during the production stage, but today everything is very controlled, there are protocols, and the reality is that the statistics show us that the number of accidents is lower.” 

“The truth is that, in this instance, the environmental risks are minimal. One cannot say that they are non-existent, because there is always a margin, but it is very low.”

A geologist with experience in the hydrocarbon sector, Argentina

Concerns persist over the effect of exploratory activities on marine fauna. “Saying that there is not going to be any change is lying, because there are waves that are projected into the water and have some effect on mammals,” said the geologist but “commercial activities in the area nowadays focus on preventative actions such as reducing the volume of these seismic waves that do not affect the hearing of animals.” 

Whatever the outcome of the courts, there can be little question that when ships start extracting hydrocarbons, protestors will attempt to impede their every move – onshore, offshore and seek to undermine corporate reputation to shine the media spotlight on what they view as irreparable environmental degradation.  

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