Nequen Industrial Park, courtesy PSU MCOR
While the landscape of the Vaca Muerta of Neuquén Province in west central Argentina is different than the Pennsylvania countryside, the two regions share many similarities in shale energy development. And through a State Department grant, educators at Penn State are collaborating with Argentine officials to support the government’s energy security efforts as it pursues environmentally and commercially sustainable unconventional natural gas development.
While energy resource development is not new to Pennsylvania, unconventional resource production was novice, providing educational opportunities, learning curves, and some growing pains in the process. Tom Murphy, Director of Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), was in the forefront of educational outreach to landowners, communities and officials in understanding and making sound decisions based on science, research, and history. Murphy sees the need to share the Commonwealth’s experiences with other countries making similar decision. As the grant project leader, Murphy met with federal and provincial officials in Buenos Aires and Neuquén last November. Key issues related to successful long term development of shale energy, especially in the Vaca Muerta and Patagonian region were discussed. This scoping mission allowed the Penn State Shale team to line up key voices for workshops in Neuquén in the coming months, covering topics on:
- Environmental considerations, including water and experiences learned in the US and in the rest of the world
- Local and regional workforce, business opportunities for local small to medium sized enterprises, housing issues, fostering healthy communities, and social license
- Industrial parks and planning
- The contribution of Neuquén, Vaca Muerta and other sources in Argentinian energy planning
- Local, regional and national infrastructure requirements, and the public-private relationship for planning and execution of works and services.
The Pennsylvania team traveling to Argentina last March to cover these topics included Tom Murphy, Dave Yoxtheimer, Hydrogeologist, Penn State MCOR; Kathryn Brasier, Penn State Associate Professor of Rural Sociology, Dept. of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education; Ross Pifer, Clinical Professor at Penn State’s Law School and Director of the Rural Economic Development Clinic; and John Ryder, Director of the Bureau of Oil & Gas Operations, PA DEP. The team was able to tour Añelo, a town in the midst of shale development. Discussions with local officials provided insight for the workshops, as the team was able to compare and relate local operations to those in the US.
The scoping mission and team visit provided additional insight into topics the Argentine officials were interested in. The team held live webinars with PA experts covering economic development, workforce, comprehensive planning, planning for industrial parks, maximizing local financial benefits and minimizing local impacts, and establishing successful public/private partnerships. The webinars were presented in both English and Spanish, and were recorded and archived for future use for Argentine officials.
From relationships developed during the trips, two separate groups of business and industry representatives visited Pennsylvania. They were able to visit local businesses and operations involved in the shale industry, such as rail, waste water treatment, well pads, natural gas utilization and infrastructure, as well as to hear from local and state officials. A third group consisting of federal and provincial representatives also made the trip, leaving with valuable insight on how collaboration and united efforts in development, infrastructure and utilization of resources look. Through this visit and additional conversations, topics were identified for the second set of workshops in Argentina. This second workshop, held in November 2017, provided discussion on:
- Evolution of the unconventional natural gas conversation
- Enhancing the credibility of the regulatory process and technical staff
- Environmental considerations and the experiences learned in the US and globally
- Workforce assessment and development of local skill sets
- Changing regional assumptions and views on short and long term impacts
- Partnerships across units of government
- Legislative initiatives for sustainable shale energy development, including revenue generation
- Strategic initiatives to create stronger science-based solutions with academic partners
A tour of the Neuquén and Rio Negro region prior to the workshops allowed the team to understand and compare these different areas to Marcellus and Utica regions in PA.
From the grant, a strategic roadmap will be developed and delivered to Neuquén in March. This document will help to address the social and environmental impacts from increased unconventional hydrocarbon exploration and production in the Neuquén basin. Planning for new infrastructure, addressing increased demand on social services, protecting water quality and access for the populace and other industries, engaging communities and operators, managing royalties and other revenues, encouraging local economic development and economic diversification, and meeting labor needs locally will be addressed. This effort will consider and build on existing reports and efforts being pursued by development banks, the private sector, and other related organizations. The road map will include a summation of what was learned to be critical for sustainable unconventional natural gas development in Argentina. It will also include reflections and suggestions by the speakers from the Penn State project team based on their experiences in Argentina and in the U.S. and any additional stakeholder voices heard during the workshops, webinars and visits here in the US. All of this will be designed to offer guidance for the Government of Argentina, at both the federal and provincial levels, to consider as they chart their own path forward. The final report will be published and presented to the Argentine officials in Spanish and delivered at the completion of the project in March, 2018.