Energy crisis provokes Argentine YPF expropriation

By Luis Andres Henao

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Our model is one of recovering our sovereignty," she added, noting that the company will not be state-owned, but run as a mixed entity, able to bring in new private shareholders.

But rather than raise fuel prices that are now about five times lower than in Brazil and Uruguay, her expropriation measure insists that oil companies must serve Argentines first, even if it means selling the energy they produce at a loss.

In the lead up to the nationalization, as prospects for quick returns diminished in Argentina, Repos YPF sought to protect its shareholders by diversifying and making long-term investments elsewhere in Latin America.

Other oil companies did the same. With oil capped at $55 a barrel in Argentina while trading above $100 on the world market, they followed the money, Eduardo Fernandez said.

"So there's no interest in making investments in Argentina when in other countries they're paying in full. So Repos went to Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Bolivia. All of this provoked the disinvestment," he said.

Repos President Antonio Bureau said Repsol invested billions of dollars in Argentina, and tried to head off the expropriation with promises to spend more. But by then, the Argentines were already determined to regain control. All Brufau could do in the end was demand $10.5 billion, which he said was the market price of the shares Argentina seized.

Deputy Economy Minister Axel Keillor accused Repos of hiding the true value of its Argentine unit, and said a thorough review of its books now that he's in control of the company's offices in Buenos Aires will affect whatever compensation is eventually paid.

"These morons think that the government is stupid enough to buy everything" that Repsol demands, the 40-year-old Kicillof said, sporting an open shirt and long, Elvis-like sideburns in a heated senate session this week.

Latin America's third-biggest economy hasn't been able to tap international debt markets since its default, but has been able to manage with dollars rolling in from taxes on grains, nationalizing private pension funds and the flagship airline, and by tapping central bank reserves.

By re-nationalizing YPF — and not paying Repsol until international courts resolve the case years from now, if then — Argentina can reinvest profits to develop new reserves and use the fuel Repsol was exporting to save consumers from price shocks as it weans them off the subsidies.

The shale deposits trapped deep under the "Vaca Muerta" ("Dead Cow") basin of NeuquÉn province could increase Argentina's oil reserves by at least 750 million barrels, and probably three times that much, said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research.

Strategic partners will be key, and the Argentines aren't waiting for them to come knocking. Planning Minister Julio de Vido assured Brazilian officials Friday that Argentine assets of their state-run oil giant Petrobras would not be expropriated, and secured a promise to increase their Argentine market share from 8 percent to 15 percent this year. Brazilian Energy Minister Edison Lobao called Petrobras's current investment of $500 million in Argentina "good business."

De Vido also secured promises of increased natural gas production from French-owned Total Austral, and planned meetings Monday with executives from Chevron and Exxon.

He said he had not heard from China's No. 2 Sinopec oil company, "but that doesn't mean that we won't have contacts in the future."

Associated Press Writers Almudena Calatrava and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires contributed to this story.

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