Exxon to start production in Vaca Muerta

A hill overlooking Lake Huechulaufquen in Neuquén province, Patagonia, Argentina.

U.S. oil companies, as they look across the world for other shale rock that might — perhaps — match Texas’ mighty Permian Basin, often pause on Argentina.

The South American giant holds an enormous field of oil and gas called the Vaca Muerta, or Dead Cow. Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Corp. already have operations there.

And now it seems Exxon Mobil is mobilizing, too, hoping its U.S. shale expertise — via its nimbler onshore arm, XTO — will transition into success in the play.

RELATED: Beyond the Permian: Is Dead Cow the next big field?

Analysts said on Thursday that Irving-based Exxon will start shale gas production from Vaca Muerta in May, citing recent statements from an Argentinian governor.

Exxon is evaluating “the potential of gas development” in the Los Toldos 1 Sur block, and is poised to request a 35-year production license for the block, said Neuquén Governor Omar Gutierrez, according to the energy research group S&P Global Platts. Exxon will have invested $750 million by the end of this year, the governor said.

Suann Guthrie, a spokeswoman for XTO, said that the company has drilled two of five planned wells at the Bajo del Choique-La Invernada block in Neuquén province.

“We were encouraged by early drilling results in 2013 and 2014 in the Bajo del Choique-La Invernada block, where we drilled some of the most successful wells in the Vaca Muerta,” she said. “We continue to be encouraged about the potential of this formation.”