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Loma de La Lata y Vaca Muerta en Neuquen, Argentina


In 1977, the Loma La Lata x-1 well discovered gas and condensate in the Sierras Blancas Formation, with an initial flow rate of 325,000 cubic metres per day of gas and 84 cubic metres per day of condensate. Although the energy requirements of the time were not what they are today, the size of the accumulation made Loma La Lata the largest hydrocarbon find in Argentina's history, concentrating half of the country's gas reserves and being a turning point in Neuquén's economy.

Since its discovery, a strong policy began to change the consumption of gas in the national industry, reducing the incidence of liquid hydrocarbons. In 1982, the Central-West Gas Pipeline was built, supplying six provinces in the centre of the country, including Buenos Aires, with an extension of more than 1,600 kilometres, consolidating gas distribution in the most populated area of the country. Between 1997 and 2008, it represented more than 60% of Argentina's gas supply. In April 1996, the execution of the Mega Project was announced in Loma La Lata, which consisted of the construction of a plant for the separation of liquid gas components, a polyduct and a fractionation plant for ethane, propane, butane and gasoline. YPF, Dow Chemical and Petrobras were to have a joint shareholding in the project. This generated resistance from the Mapuche communities Kaxipayiñ and Paynemil, whose territories are included in the area, who in 2001 denounced environmental damage of more than 630,000 m³ of contaminated soil with high concentrations of chromium, lead, arsenic, naphthalene, pyrene and aromatic compounds in layers up to six metres deep. Numerous pickets, blockades and mobilisations took place in the province of Neuquén. The communities accuse the oil company of having mobilised unemployed people and trade unions, such as the Neuquén branch of the Construction Workers' Union (Unión Obrera de la Construcción) under promises of work and under threat of job cuts.

In 1997, Neuquén's Ombudswoman for Children and Adolescents, Nara Osés, denounced the provincial state for failing to guarantee a healthy environment and the health of the population. She obtained a favourable ruling from the Superior Court of Justice of Neuquén, but the inaction of the local government led the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which accepted the complaint in 1998 and urged the province and Repsol-YPF to take concrete measures [Case No. 12.010].  In 1997, studies carried out by the provincial public health system confirmed the presence of heavy metals in the bodies of people living in communities exposed to soil, water and air pollution. Cases of cancer, pregnancy loss and malformations, skin, eye, digestive and nervous system disorders were reported in the area.

The case prompted the intervention of the Children's Ombudsman's Office, which initiated a defense action for the provincial authorities to guarantee the supply of drinking water, the health treatment essential for the recovery of those affected, and to exercise the relevant environmental control functions. The sentence, which obliged the government to build a water treatment plant and ensure the provision of water fit for consumption, was ratified in all judicial instances in the country and, given its non-compliance, the provincial executive was denounced before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights - case 12.01013.

Until September 2009, the Province supplied drinking water in jerry cans to the community members, and from that moment on, the start-up of the water purification plant that supplies the community was authorised. Meanwhile, in the Neuquén court, the case for environmental remediation is still open. Loma La Lata was for more than three decades the main hydrocarbon area in the country and is the place where the Vaca Muerta formation has begun to be drilled [1].  This project (today in the hands of YPF and Chevron, since Repsol was expropriated in favour of YPF) [2] is very large, in the order of more than 30 billion dollars.  In August 2013 there were demonstrations and violent clashes and injuries as a result of the approval of the agreement with Chevron by the Neuquen legislature [3-6].        The contract included legal mechanisms to release Chevron from any liability for potential socio-environmental problems, as well as to build a safe way to channel the capital injection [7].  According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), Argentina would have resources in shale formations of 27 (bb) and 802 (TCF), hosting the world's second largest gas resources and the fourth largest oil resources, located mainly in the Vaca Muerta formation. Today Loma Campana is one of the world's leading shale gas fields [8].      

Over time, the number of oil companies with a presence in the Vaca Muerta field increased. By 2023, there were 17, 12 operating in the field and five present only as partners in blocks owned by other companies. The 12 operating in the field are: YPF, PAE, Total Austral (a subsidiary of TotalEnergies), Tecpetrol, Shell, Vista, ExxonMobil, Pluspetrol, Pampa Energía, Capex, PRG and Chevron. The other five companies that do not operate directly are: Gas y Petróleo del Neuquén (GyP), Petronas, Equinor, Dow and Wintershall DEA [9].  As the oilfields were developed, negotiations between government institutions and indigenous peoples intensified: in 2022, the province of Neuquén came up with a proposal to consult Mapuche organisations in order to reduce the conflict with the oil companies and, above all, to obtain a formal pass for the construction of the Néstor Kirchner pipeline to transport gas from Vaca Muerta before the winter of 2023 [10]. However, in the autumn of 2022, the Mapuche people's protests and grievances intensified again, including through an incident involving the burning of machinery at an oil company [11-12].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Loma de La Lata y Vaca Muerta en Neuquen, Argentina
State or province:Provincia de Neuquén
Location of conflict:Departamentos de Confluencia y Añelo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Shale gas fracking
Oil and gas refining
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The project has two phases. The initial one with Repsol, and the one with YPF-Chevron (from 2013) for gas fracking. Total production associated with the project is estimated at an equivalent of 794 million barrels of oil. The Loma de La Lata project has been operated by three companies. Since 1977, by YPF; from 1999-2013 by Repsol-YPF and from 2013 by the alliance of Chevron and YPF. Petrobras has also participated.

The evolution of the field, in terms of production, was significant and sustained from the early years until 2004. Since then, however, it has declined sharply. For example, in 1990 it reached a production of 24.5 million m3/day of gas, while in 2000, according to data from the National Energy Secretariat, production stood at 30 million m3/day. In 2004, and after the record highs recorded in 2002/2003, the official figure was around 36 million m3/day, while in 2008 it fell to 25 million m3/day. Operated by YPF, in 2013 Loma La Lata-Sierra Barrosa produced 3237 m3/day of oil and 15 million m3 of gas, according to data from the Energy Secretariat.

In Vaca Muerta, which encompasses Loma Campana and Loma la Lata, a much larger shale gas fracking project was proposed in 2013, once YPF regained ownership from Repsol and made an agreement with Chevron (sponsored by Cristina Kirschner's government). This deal ran into local opposition in 2013.

In 2015, Chevron opted to withdraw from other wells in Rio Negro and concentrate its activities in Vaca Muerta [13].

As of 2023, 17 companies are active in Vaca Muerta, of which 12 are operating directly and 5 are only associated with existing licences.

Project area:197,100
Level of Investment for the conflictive project30 000 000 000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/1996
Company names or state enterprises:Repsol from Spain
Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) from Argentina
Total Austral from France - Project developer
Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) from Netherlands
Vista Oil & Gas from Argentina - Project developer
ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (EM) from United States of America
Pampa Energía from Argentina - Project developer
Tecpetrol from Argentina
Pluspetrol from Argentina
Capex from Argentina - Project developer
Chevron Corporation from United States of America
(PGR) from Argentina - Project developer
Gas y Petróleo del Neuquén (GyP) from Argentina - Licence holder
PETRONAS from Malaysia
Equinor from Norway
Dow Chemical Company (Dow) from United States of America
Wintershall from Germany
Relevant government actors:Gobierno y Legislatura de Neuquén
Gobierno de la República Argentina
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Comunidad Mapuche Paynemil, Comunidad Mapuche Kaxipayiñ y la Confederación Mapuche de Neuquén.
Multisectorial contra el Fracking.
Observatorio Petrolero del Sur (

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsOil and gas exploitation is followed now by fracking
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents
Other Health impactsLa exposición prolongada a metales pesados a través del agua o de los alimentos tiene impactos notables en la salud. Los hidrocarburos aromáticos (como el benceno y tolueno) son altamente cancerígenos, y metales como el plomo y mercurio, presentes en el crudo, afectan al sistema nervioso. La intoxicación crónica puede tardar 10 años en manifestarse, primero con señales como problemas gastrointestinales, fatiga, depresión, irritabilidad y la disminución de la capacidad mental para el razonamiento, la concentración y la memoria.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Other socio-economic impactsMapuche populations endangered


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Los daños causados ​​por Repsol no fueron remediados ni compensados, y después de 2013 hay un nuevo acuerdo en Vaca Muerta para fracking a gran escala entre Chevron e YPF. Las compañías han seguido aumentando con los años, y en 2023 se planea la construcción de un gasoducto.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[7] Gustavo García Zanott, "El contrato entre YPF y Chevron: una forma desdibujada en la relación entre el Estado y el mercado". Cuadernos de economía

Libro de 2015 de Maristella Svampa y Enrique Viale, minería, soja, y también la nueva explotación del fracking con la Chevron M. Svampa y E. Viale, Maldesarrollo La Argentina del extractivismo y el despojo, Editorial Katz

Gavaldà, M. Scandizzo, H. “Contaminación por hidrocarburos en las aguas de Neuquén”, en Negocios Insaciables: Estados, Transnacionales, Derechos Humanos y Agua, APY Solidaridad en Acción, 2015

Articulo de Carlos Malamud, 2013, sobre Chevron y Vaca Muerta, reservas, inversiones

Gavaldà, Marc, Repsol en América Latina: invasión y resistencias, Icaria, Barcelona, 2003

D. di Risio et al., Zonas de Sacrificio. Impactos de la industria hidrocarburífera en Salta y Norpatagonia, , OPSur/América Libre, Buenos Aires, 2012.

Scandizzo, Hernán, Patagonia petrolera, el desierto permanente, 2a ed., Buenos aires, Ediciones del Jinete Insomne, 2010,

• Jorge Hechem, Breve historia sobre el descu-brimiento de Loma La Lata:

[1] Los nuevos descubrimientos de Repsol YPF envenenarán más Loma de la Lata (Argentina) (noviembre 2011)

[2] Descripción en Clarin de lo ocurrido por el acuerdo de la legislatura de Neuquen al acuerdo Chevron-YPF

[3] Mapuches bloquean planta de YPF en pleno conflicto por Chevron. Un centenar de integrantes de la comunidad Campo Maripe y de activistas impiden el acceso a un yacimiento en Neuquén. Los nativos denunciaron que sufrieron un ataque. 31 agosto 2013.

[4] Vaca Muerta: Esperando el milagro. YPF y Chevron firmaron un acuerdo millonario por la explotación de Vaca Muerta. Mientras tanto Añelo, el pueblo más cercano, espera los dólares que, se esperanza, lo sacarán de la pobreza.

[6] Descripción de los incidentes y heridos en agosto de 2013, a causa del acuerdo YPF-Chevron

[8] Francisco Carnese, "A ocho años del contrato YPF-Chevron que cambió la historia". Más Energía, 22 July 2021.

[10] Verónica Dalto, "La provincia de Neuquén negocia con los mapuches para pacificar Vaca Muerta"., 26 August 2022.

[11] Sofía Sandoval, "Mapuches en Neuquén: entre la lucha por la legitimidad y los intereses multimillonarios en Vaca Muerta". La Nación, 28 November 2022.

[12] "Confuso ataque en Villa La Angostura: amenazaron a un sereno e incendiaron máquinas". La Nación, 14 October 2022.

[13] 2015: alerta a inversiones por baja de precios de hidrocarburos

Descripción en La Nacion de lo ocurrido en 28 agosto 2013, en el debate en la legislatura de Neuquen (acuerdo YPF-Chevron)

Chevron entusiasmado con Loma Campana, Vaca Muerta

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video del Observatorio Petrolero del Sur

Entrevista al politólogo e investigador Diego Di Risio en el programa “Amanece que no es poco” que se emite por Radio Del Plata de Neuquén ante la falta de cumplimento de la entrega de acuerdo YPF-Chevron.

Meta information

Contributor:Martin & JMA; edited by Roberto Cantoni (03/07/2023)
Last update05/07/2023
Conflict ID:1346



Protesta en agosto 2013 en Neuquen