BUENOS AIRES Dec 23 Argentine energy companies
and their employees should have a new labor contract next month
that could reduce uncertainty for potential investors in the
sector, a key labor group leader told Reuters on Friday.
Labor strikes are common in Argentina, where companies are
pressured to raise wages amid inflation that is expected to end
the year at around 40 percent.
Labor volatility is a key issue for the investors needed to
tap the Vaca Muerta shale formation in Neuquen province, one of
the largest unconventional reserves in the world.
"The negotiations are done. All that's left are bits and
pieces like the amount of investments that the companies will
make and the level where gas prices will be fixed," said
Guillermo Pereyra, secretary general of the Oil and Gas Workers
Union in the Patagonian provinces of Neuquen, Río Negro and
Vaca Muerta has attracted investment from Chevron Corp
and Exxon Mobil Corp. But the shale formation,
which is about the size of Belgium, remains largely unexplored.
"We've done our part," Pereyra said. "I'm sure the deal will
be closed in the first half of January."
The talks include labor unions, Argentina's government and
energy company representatives. None of the negotiators for the
companies agreed to comment on the record.
"The agreement is going to get signed. The talks have
advanced quite a bit," an oil company executive said on
condition of anonymity.
Argentine Energy Minister Juan Jose Aranguren told reporters
earlier this month that he expected a deal soon.
"An area where Argentina can attract massive investments is
Vaca Muerta," he said.
Employment in the sector had been affected by an increase in
fuel imports, spurred by world crude prices that are well below
local prices. The government subsidizes locally-produced oil to
encourage domestic production.
Argentina produces an estimated 716,000 barrels of oil per
day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. The
country has been a net oil importer since 2010.
(Reporting by Juliana Castilla; Editing by Paul Simao)