VACA MUERTA RISING: Creating a Family-Friendly Oilfield Boomtown

Source: JPT.
This worker training facility near Añelo is one of the projects supported by YPF to support balanced economic growth in this oilfield boom town.

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Añelo is a small town in an arid, sparsely populated area with a new supermarket, police station, bank, skate park, hotel, and hospital.

In the past decade the population has roughly tripled to 7,000, and in 5 years, it is expected to nearly triple again to 20,000.

The catalyst for this boom is the development of the Vaca Muerta, an enormous unconventional oil formation that extends under the town.

As the town nearest to YPF’s office for this huge play, Añelo has recently attracted a cluster of service company offices, warehouses, and equipment yards on the edge of town. And more growth is expected as the national oil company scales up development.

For YPF, the goal is to turn the fast-growing town into a good place to live for workers and their families. But that is hardly a sure thing.

The family part is critical. The lure of high-paying jobs after big discoveries often means an influx of men coming to town. At the worst this can lead to a surge in crime, drugs, and prostitution while the boom lasts, followed by a lot of empty buildings after it ends.

A partnership between YPF and Chevron, which jointly developed the nearby Loma Campana block within the play, is working on a plan to help the town keep up with the growth and become a more livable place for families.

“Añelo’s infrastructure needs to grow up. Health care, education, and water system development are all needed,” said Federico Califano, formerly YPF’s public affairs manager in Añelo.

For YPF and Chevron, sustainability is more than a corporate image issue. Constant drilling is needed in plays such as the Vaca Muerta where wells decline quickly, so a skilled workforce will be needed to do the work.

Grants have from the YPF foundation have supported:

  • Construction of a water supply system with a pipeline to bring fresh water from a reservoir to the south as well as an expanded water supply system in the town, and a new development on the road to YPF’s office called Balcones de Añelo.
  • Building places for children to play including a public swimming pool and a skate park near recently expanded schools.
  • Construction of a hospital and expansion of a clinic.

The hospital project includes two houses nearby for doctors the companies hope to attract to town. That highlights a problem common in oilfield towns—high-paying oilfield jobs draw workers but it can be hard to find people to provide the personal services needed to make a town livable to spouses of workers who are gone for weeks on jobs.

Job-training programs are aimed at filling gaps both in the oil field—such as electricians—and in town where small business owners are needed to provide services, from dinner out to salons.

Workers in YPF’s training program for recent college graduates live in a hotel in Añelo where it offers classes taught by experts within the company. At the regional office there is a dormitory with rooms for workers who stay at the office rather than drive hours to home.

Many YPF professionals now commute from Neuquén, which is a 2-hour drive on a good day. YPF is also working on ways to limit the number of workers in the field by using data from wired wells and facilities to set up remote monitoring and control centers. “Moving more technical people to Neuquén is going to let us grow,” said Matias Weissel, manager of unconventional projects for YPF.

VACA MUERTA RISING: Creating a Family-Friendly Oilfield Boomtown

Stephen Rassenfoss, JPT Emerging Technology Senior Editor

01 February 2018

Volume: 70 | Issue: 2

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