Argentine president says Vaca Muerta gas pipeline tender to be launched in July

FILE PHOTO: Argentina's President Mauricio Macri speaks during a meeting with Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina will launch a tender process for a major pipeline servicing the emerging Vaca Muerta shale play in July, President Mauricio Macri said on Wednesday, a move that will be key to establishing steady gas exports.

In March, Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said the pipeline would transport up to 22 million cubic meters of gas per day and predicted that the tender would be launched in April.

“We need this pipeline, which will be tendered in July,” Macri said at a forum in Neuquen, the capital of the province of the same name where Vaca Muerta is located.

The pipeline is set to terminate near the port city of Rosario, on the Parana River, said a source with direct knowledge of the process. It is expected to cost about $2 billion, said the source, who requested anonymity because the information has not yet been made public.

The tender will be launched in the first half of July with results expected in October, the source added.

Vaca Muerta, which is roughly the size of Belgium, is one of the world’s largest onshore oil and gas plays, though it is still in the early stages of development.

Macri, who faces a re-election battle in October, sees Vaca Muerta as an opportunity to wean Argentina off natural gas imports and eventually become an important exporter. Earlier in June, state energy firm YPF SA made the first export shipment of liquefied natural gas from Vaca Muerta.

“We have to go to Congress and pass a law that says how we are going to export gas over the next 30 years and commit ourselves to long-term contracts,” Macri said at the event.

Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Rosalba O’Brienand Leslie Adler