Following attacks on two Saudi Arabian oil refineries and protest threats from oil unions, the government has upped security at Vaca Muerta, tasking the National Gendarmerie with protecting the shale formation.
Argentina's border guards will be responsible for guaranteeing "the supply of essential goods and supplies for the proper development of hydrocarbon exploitation activity," according to a resolution published in the Official Gazette. Through Resolution 768/2019, published Tuesday, the Security Ministry extended the National Gendarmerie's jurisdiction to include the ""geographical space of the Vaca Muerta geological formation located in the Neuquén Basin," including "parts of the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, La Pampa and Mendoza."
Oil prices saw their biggest daily gain since the 1991 Gulf War on Monday after weekend drone attacks on two Saudi oil facilities halved output in the world's top crude exporter, fuelling fresh geopolitical and growth fears. Meanwhile, protest threats from unions in the sector are escalating domestically.
“It is imperative to safeguard the physical integrity of the hydrocarbon essential to provide physical protection to the facilities in the Neuquén Basin,” the Security Ministry said in a statement, describing Vaca Muerta as a "vital economic interest" for the State.
According to the text from the Ministry – headed by Patricia Bullrich – the Gendarmerie will be "available to local judicial authorities," but "only with regard to issues that affect or have a direct impact on essential security conditions" related to the exploitation of hydrocarbons.
The decision comes amid rising geopolitical tension regarding the drone attacks on two Saudi refineries over the weekend. In addition, there has been rumoured union unrest in the region.
Reacting to the news, local labour leader and Senator Guillermo Pereyra said he welcomed the Gendarmerie, as long as they weren't there to "repress" unionists.
“I have no problem with Gendarmerie coming to guard the site, that's fine. Let them. But there has to be an explanation. If they come to repress social conflicts, I say no. Because there is no emergency in the Province, everything is quiet,” Pereyra, the head of the Sindicato de Petróleo y Gas Privado de Río Negro, Neuquén y La Pampa, told local radio station FM Concepto.
Pereyra, who serves as a senator with the Movimiento Popular Neuquino, expressed surprise over the government's decision.
“Why do they send the Gendarmerie? It surprises me. I have no knowledge about what is the reason why,” he admitted.