Extraction of unconventional oil, Vaca Muerta, Argentina. Photo: Cristian Martin / Getty Images

As oil prices get closer to pre-pandemic levels, the likelihood increases that Vaca Muerta, Argentina, will expand shale oil and gas production. The authors look at the implications of this production on water resources, drawing from a literature review, publicly available spatial data, and the results of a water management study.

Key messages

  • A rapid increase in unconventional hydrocarbon production is underway in the Vaca Muerta region.
  • Climate change threatens the timing and quantity of water that will be available for competing uses, including agricultural, municipal, hydroelectric, and shale oil and gas production.
  • Shale oil and gas production could pose a water quality risk to water sources during both well completion and ongoing operations.
  • Improvements in data collection and management systems can help build knowledge on how watershed conditions change over time and across the region, and how the watershed is impacted by climate change and other factors.
  • A regulatory process that allows for collaboration and coordination among shale oil and gas producers and other water users can ensure that the hydrocarbon sector participates in and conforms with Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).