The government has awarded 18 permits to firms allowing oil and gas exploration in maritime areas off the southern coast.
The permits, announced by the Economy Ministry, centre on three regions on Argentina's continental shelf and run up to 13 years for the deepest areas and up to 11 years for the shallowest. The companies involved can request extensions for the concessions of up to 35 years, officials said.
"Activities will include drilling at least two wells, and during the lifetime of these permits the companies can apply for a 35-year production licence for these areas," an official statement said.
he winning bids committed investment totalling some US$724 million, the Energy Secretariat said. Among the beneficiaries are state energy firm YPF, France's Total SA, US firm ExxonMobil, British Petroleum (BP) and the Anglo-Dutch company Shell.
President Mauricio Macri has sought to increase Argentina's energy output, with reserves having fallen in recent years.
The three areas to be explored are the Austral basin (14,000 km2 and 100-metres deep), the Argentina North basin (100,000 km2 and up to 4,000-metres deep) and the Malvinas West basin (86,400 km2 and 600-metres deep). The latter is in an area close to disputed waters related to Argentina's sovereignty claim over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands, which are under British control.