After 10 years the ship that cost the country millions of dollars goes away: Macri says goodbye

A routine news for a port saves a strong signal this time. Tomorrow at 9 o’clock, the Exemplar regasification vessel will sail from the Mega Company wharf in Bahía Blanca. His departure, already without return, will mean the partial closure of a decade of expensive imports of Liquefied Natural Gas arriving in hundreds of ships. And also the first visible sign of the benefits of the growing exploitation in Vaca Muerta that, in a short time, could transform the Bahian maritime station into a terminal no longer an importer, but a gas exporter.

To watch the sailing of the Belgian flag vessel, the last of the four of the same type that served the regasification function since May 2008, will travel Mauricio Macri. The energy issue, recurrent in the presidential discourse, will allow it to show a contrast with the previous government, driving the import of LNG, as a way out of a supply crisis that was believed to be temporary. But that ended up staying ten years, with a very high cost for the coffers of the State and corruption allegations still investigated by the courts.

In its heyday, the Bahian station managed to provide 20 to 24 million cubic meters of water to the national grid. It started with 6 ships a year, but in 2013, 42 methane tankers arrived, with a cost per million BTU (the gas measurement unit) that was among the three most expensive in the world. The costs of each operation totaled, on average, US $ 150,000 per day and sometimes, due to the lack of foreign currency that the Kirchner administration faced, the ships loaded with LNG arrived and had to await their entry to port several days. Each day of waiting represented an additional US $ 50,000 for the State’s accounts. Much of that business was handled by Julio de Vido and his undersecretary, Roberto Baratta.

But already in the recent winter, the fluid from Vaca Muerta was able to cover the average demand of 17 million cubic meters a day that the Bahiense station served. This year, external purchases of gas were reduced by 20% and during 2019, the government aims to bring that cut to 50%. Still the fluid will continue arriving in LNG ships at the port of Escobar. That terminal, enabled three years after Bahía Blanca, which was the first of its kind in Latin America, will be expanded, announced by the Energy Secretariat. In two years, according to Javier Iguacel, gas will no longer be imported, neither in ships nor through gas pipelines from Bolivia. All due to the impact of Vaca Muerta, which led this year to local production in August to its highest value since 2010. It marked an 8.1% increase in relation to 2017.

The first regasification vessel, the Excelsior, arrived in Bahía Blanca in May 2008, when the security conditions in which it would operate were still debated in the public hearing. There was fear regarding the gas transfer operation from ship to ship, in the heart of the country’s largest petrochemical complex. In 2011, ENARSA and YPF proposed to install another port to regasify in the same Bahian estuary. But the project, which needed to advance through a wetland sector, was stopped after strong criticism from scientific bodies and environmental organizations. Venezuela’s PDVSA came to evaluate installing itself in Puerto Rosales, a few meters from the Bahia port, with another terminal station.

Exemplar’s departure will mark the end of the contract with the firm Excelerate, which since 2008, carried out the regasification process, first with Enarsa (in times of brilliance of Julio De Vido and Roberto Baratta) and then with YPF (from the hand of Miguel Galuccio and Axel Kicillof). Although for the American company it would not be a goodbye but a see you later. Last month, together with TGS, it signed an agreement for the study of a liquefaction project in the Bahia port. “The objective of the project is to study the technical and commercial feasibility of liquefying and exporting natural gas during the summer season, allowing a more sustainable development of shale gas resources (unconventional) and reducing the annual import requirements of natural gas of Argentina “announced on September 10. The studio would be ready by the end of the year and would mean more music for government ears in the field of energy.