Argentina has been shaping up as one of the best places on Earth for oil and gas exploration. With high and rising government-mandated prices helping to spur big investments in exploration and development.
But those plans hit a major hitch late last week. When the country’s Supreme Court stepped into the regulation of commodities pricing.
Argentina’s highest judges moved last Thursday to suspend planned price hikes for natural gas. Which Argentina’s new government had previously promised would fix natgas rates as high as $7.50/MMBtu — an elevated level that would have given producers and explorers in the country a big leg up.
But the courts ruled that forcing Argentina’s gas consumers to pay more is unconstitutional. With judges saying that the government must first hold public hearings on the proposed price increases — before finalizing the measures and cementing higher prices for producers.
That puts the future of natgas pricing across Argentina in limbo. Making it look like the current, lower-price regime will stay in place for at least the next several months, while the government prepares its next moves.
Officials in the government of new president Mauricio Macri did speak out against the court ruling. Saying that delays in raising prices will hamper the investment Argentina badly needs in order to ensure oil and gas production.
Overall however, this looks to be a brewing standoff between public sentiment and project economics. With the complicated dynamics here representing a critical wrinkle in Argentina’s plans to modernize its oil and gas sector.
Government representatives said they plan to appeal the Supreme Court suspension order — watch for the outcome of this key legal case over the coming months, and for other strategies the government might try in order to incentivize petroleum exploration.
Here’s to finding a way,