Argentine province awards Vaca Muerta pilot oil concessions to Pluspetrol

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BUENOS AIRES, July 1 (Reuters) - Argentina's Neuquen province, home to the huge Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas formation, has awarded two new concessions to energy firm Pluspetrol, the local government said on Friday, with investment rising to a potential $452 million with good results.

The concession areas are Loma Jarillosa Este and Puesto Silva Oeste, both around 25 square kilometers (9.65 square miles), which will be aimed mainly at oil production, the government added.

Argentina is trying to ramp up domestic output of oil and gas from Vaca Muerta to replace increasingly expensive energy imports and save depleted foreign currency reserves. It aims long-term to become a liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter.

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Vaca Muerta, an area the size of Belgium in Argentina's Patagonian south, is the world's fourth-largest shale oil reserve and the second largest for shale gas.

"We continue to work and move forward to meet the goals we have set for this year: 50 hydrocarbon concessions," Neuquen Governor Omar Gutierrez said in the announcement.

"We have to beat the oil production record, which is 308,000 barrels per day of oil. Last year we were able to meet the forecasts and I am sure that this year we will meet it too."

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Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Editing by Alistair Bell

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