Argentina plans auction for offshore oil exploration next year

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Argentina plans to auction offshore oil and gas exploration rights next year, in the hope of developing fields off its Atlantic coast like those in neighboring Brazil, the energy minister said on Thursday.

Earlier this year Argentina hired Norway’s Spectrum to do a seismic survey in cooperation with state-run oil firm YPF SA. A spokesman for the energy ministry said Australia’s Searcher Seismic was also surveying the area, which to date has been little explored.

“There is a high probability that the subsalt basin that exists on the coast of Brazil continues south and so we see the discovery of any formation of oil and conventional gas in the area as very attractive. It could be very profitable for the country,” Minister Juan Jose Aranguren said at a conference in Buenos Aires.

Last week Brazil attracted a record $1.19 billion in its 14th round of bidding for oil exploration and production rights.

“You will ask, ‘At these prices?’” Aranguren said, referring to oil prices that have hovered around $50 a barrel. “Yes, at these prices, because we want to be prepared when prices go up.”

Since taking office in late 2015 business-friendly President Mauricio Macri’s government has prioritized investment in the energy sector to try to reverse a costly energy deficit. Attention has mostly been focused on Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale fields, rather than off-shore exploration. (Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi; Writing by Caroline Stauffer, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)