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Argentina likely on verge of big gas find

BUENOS AIRES, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Argentina is likely on the verge of a major natural gas discovery following exploration by Repsol-YPF's unit in the country, Argentine news media reported.

News of the likely new gas find, initially reported by lapoliticaonline, followed reports that exploration by Repsol-YPF had concentrated on the Patagonian province of

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Neuquen.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is expected to make a formal announcement of the discovery this week, MercoPress reported.

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Estimates about the size of the find suggested that, once developed, the gas deposits could likely make Argentina self-sufficient in energy for at least half a century.

Neuquen already is known for its hydrocarbons, largely undetermined but believed to be the result of extensive fossil deposits.

Argentine oil and gas production has suffered for almost a decade due to low productivity, labor disputes and related problems. An exploration program in both oil and gas sectors suffered several interruptions due to political troubles in both Argentina and Bolivia.

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Several of the biggest hydrocarbon companies in South America, including Brazil's state-controlled Petrobras, have been actively looking to increase their investment in Argentina's energy sector.

Exploration experts linked to the operation told Argentine news media they were hopeful the natural gas quantities in Neuquen would be very substantial.

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Officials said the latest discovery made them confident Argentina would have ample quantities of fuel for the coming decades.

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"Argentina has gas for the next century and we can cut off from Bolivian imports," said Miguel Hassekieff, a senior energy official.

Tentative primary testing for the gas reserves estimated the volume of the deposit could be at least 21 trillion cubic feet.

Meanwhile, Repsol YPF said it resumed operations at southern Argentina's oil fields that were disrupted by an oil workers' strike that began Dec. 1.

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YPF is Argentina's largest producer of crude and already the second-biggest producer of natural gas in the country. Officials said full-scale exploitation of new natural gas deposits could take several years to be implemented. In the meantime, Argentina would remain dependent on imported oil and gas.

Fernandez has announced plans to speed through a government plan to expand nuclear power generation with the establishment of a new nuclear power generation plant to add to two already in operation.

The nuclear reactors generate nearly 1-10th of Argentina's electricity. But electricity consumption in Argentina has grown steadily since 1990, giving impetus to the government's efforts to increase and diversify sources of energy.

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