Vaca Muerta


Northern Patagonia, Argentina

Project risks:

Environmental Destruction, Litigation, Social Harm


  • YPF SA
  • Tecpetrol Internacional SLU
  • Pampa Energia SA
  • Pluspetrol Resources Corporation BV
  • Chevron Corporation
  • TotalEnergies SE
  • Vista Energy SAB de CV
  • BP plc
  • Wintershall Dea AG
  • Shell plc
  • Energy Operations Argentina LLC
  • Exxon Mobil Corporation
  • Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas)
  • CNOOC Ltd
  • Bridas Energy Holdings Ltd
  • Gas y Petroleo del Neuquen SA
  • Petroleo Brasileiro SA – Petrobras
  • The Dow Chemical Company
  • QatarEnergy
  • Phoenix Global Resources plc
  • Equinor ASA
  • Compania General de Combustibles SA (CGC)

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Location of the Vaca Muerta fracking project. By zooming in, you can recognize how the drill pads fragment the landscape.

Oil and gas companies are wrecking Northern Patagonia with the gigantic Vaca Muerta fracking project. More than 20 companies are turning the region in Argentina's south into a sacrifice zone the size of Belgium.14685 The resources they extract in Vaca Muerta add up to 46% of Argentina’s annual oil production and 42% of annual gas production in 2022.14687 With over 1,700 drilling sites, the companies are destroying the environment and fueling the climate crisis.14691 Approximately 1,300 wells are fracked every month in the region.15217 Health issues plague the people living near wells and illegal dumping sites.15219

The oil and gas companies set up new wells almost on a daily basis. The wells fragment the landscape in Vaca Muerta. Only in April 2022, 20 new gas wells started production.14693 New infrastructure could further boost the expansion-hungry fracking company’s production. The state-owned energy company Integración Energética Argentina SA (IEASA) wants to build a pipeline to further boost gas production.14695 YPF, another state-owned company, is planning to build an LNG terminal.15221 Moreover, an expansion project of the North Patagonian railway corridor is underway. It will enable oil and gas companies to transport their products to Bahía Blanca, one of Argentina’s most important ports.14697 This infrastructure would help export Vaca Muerta gas to Europe and further boost gas production.14699

The Vaca Muerta megaproject stretches thousands of miles across Northern Patagonia. The destruction is so enormous, we can see it from space. Credit: Martín Álvarez Mullally, OPSur

Vaca Muerta is being presented as a vehicle of economic independence, a way to reduce public debt while driving social improvements in Argentina.15223 While this outcome is dependent on good policies, other effects are more certain. The project is a carbon bomb. It is among the largest shale gas projects in the world.15225 Emissions from Vaca Muerta could eat up more than 10% of the world’s remaining carbon budget.15227 According to calculations by and Profundo, the costs of Vaca Muerta’s social and environmental impacts could reach up to USD 5 trillion – far outweighing the projected USD 2 trillion in profits the project could generate.15229

Fracking is a dirty and dangerous technique to extract oil and gas. It is banned in many countries, such as Uruguay, France, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Ireland and Denmark.14701 Fracking can cause earthquakes and contaminate water sources. According to government records, over 2,000 “environmental incidents” occurred at Vaca Muerta in 2021. These incidents involve blowouts, as well as leaks of gas, lubricants or wastewater. The number of accidents has more than doubled since 2017.15231  Fossil fuel companies pump pressurized water, toxic chemicals and sand into the underground rock to release oil and gas. Together with the desired fossil fuels, they bring some of the wastewater up to the surface again. This waste contains heavy metals and radioactive liquids.15233 In Vaca Muerta, companies are illegally dumping the dangerous mixture into unprotected pits.14703 This oily waste is piling up only a few hundred meters away from people’s homes.14705

Fracking operations in Vaca Muerta make people ill. Fracking chemicals are poisoning people’s drinking water, farmland and harvest.15235 People are suffocating from the persistent smell of oil and gas in the air. It sticks to their noses and dries up their throats. They are suffering chronic health issues such as cancer, asthma and skin diseases.14707 The waste issue is a problem that will continue to worsen, as waste processing facilities are already struggling for capacity.15237 At the same time, fracking operations regularly lead to earthquakes that rattle and crack people’s houses. People live in constant fear of the next earthquake. Every earthquake threatens to destroy their homes, belongings and health. Before the oil and gas companies started their fracking activities, the people of Vaca Muerta could walk on stable ground. This is no longer the case.14709 Over the course of only 3 weeks between April and May in 2022, 35 earthquakes hit the region.14711

The Vaca Muerta megaproject brings Northern Patagonian cities close to collapse. Masses of workers are moving to the area. Cities like Añelo are growing chaotically. Within the last decade, its population has tripled.14713 Housing and food prices are exploding in Vaca Muerta’s nearby cities.14715 Even the oil and gas workers are struggling to pay their bills by now. More and more people have to move into the poor slums on the outskirts of cities. The health and school systems are completely overburdened. Teachers and doctors have to commute from neighboring towns because they cannot afford rent.14719 In February 2022, a trade union representing 24,000 workers went on strike to demand higher wages.14717 They did so again in May 2023 to denounce the “contempt” of industry players for the safety of their employees.15241

The Indigenous Mapuche people also suffer from the dirty megaproject. They have been living in Northern Patagonia for centuries. Now, fossil fuel companies are drilling wells on the Mapuche’s traditional land without their consent.14721 They are invading the Indigenous community’s homeland with wells, pipelines, heavy machinery, access roads and truck traffic.1472314725 In early 2023, Argentina’s National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI) recognized the rights of the Lof Limay Kurref Mapuche community over 4,477 hectares of land in the province of Mendoza. The area had been included in the Vaca Muerta fracking region without the Limay Kurref’s prior, informed consent.15243 Oil and gas companies have already drilled wells and erected pipelines on the land.1524515247

The Mapuche people are fighting back. First, in 2014, they blocked roads to drilling sites for 2 weeks, then for 48 days and then again for another 48 days.14725 With their bodies, they brought Vaca Muerta’s fracking wells to a halt. Protests have continued since.1524915251 Together with the NGO FARN and local citizens, the Wirkaleo Mapuche community is suing the Neuquén province in Northern Patagonia and the State of Argentina. The case has reached Argentina’s supreme court, which remains silent.14727 The Wirkaleo Mapuche want the province to halt all fracking activities until it can guarantee that fracking no longer causes earthquakes in the region.14729

The Mapuche are not alone in their resistance. More and more people are coming together in grassroots initiatives across Northern Patagonia. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a local Catholic Bishop, farmers, doctors, teachers and politicians are speaking up against the destruction of the region.15255 Even the United Nations has urged Argentina to stop the gigantic fracking project.1473115253

Fossil fuel companies like BP, Equinor and Shell have endless expansion plans. Financial institutions need to stop them now, before they turn Northern Patagonia into a completely unlivable and poisonous desert.14733

Rosa Sandoval lives in Sauzal Bonito, a village next door to the fracking megaproject. She is pointing to the cracks in her home that the earthquakes leave behind. Credit: Martín Álvarez Mullally, OPSur 
The people who live near to Vaca Muerta are repeatedly protesting against the megaproject. Credit: Multisectorial contra el Fracking de Neuquén

Groups working on Vaca Muerta: Observatorio Petroleo Sur (OPSUR), Enlace por la Justicia Energética y Socioambiental (EJES), Taller Ecologista, Oilwatch LatinoAmerica, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), Periodistas por el Planeta, Asociación Argentina de Abogados Ambientalistas, EcoLeaks

Further Reading:


We list the the GOGEL companies involved in upstream activities in Vaca Muerta………………………………………………