Vaca Muerta Consortium

The Vaca Muerta Consortium closed December 31, 2015. All Vaca Muerta research is now being managed within the MUDTOC (Mudrocks and Tight Oil Characterization) Consortium.

For Information on how to become a sponsoring member of MUDTOC, please visit the MUDTOC website or contact Dr. Steve Sonnenberg.


The Vaca Muerta Petroleum System, A Major Shale and Tight Resource Play in the Neuquén Basin, Argentina


The Vaca Muerta Formation in the Neuquén Basin is a world class source rock.  This integrated project proposes to characterize the source rock potential of the basin, characterize conventional and unconventional accumulations in terms of porosity, permeability and pressure, map fracture systems, create drilling, completion  and fracture stimulation models for the basin, and develop geologic, petrophysical, and reservoir models.

The total organic carbon content of the Vaca Muerta ranges from 2 – 6 wt.% and the type of kerogen is Type I and II (sapropelic – oil prone).  The shale interval ranges in thickness from 300 to 1300 ft.  A part of the shale interval is present in the oil window and in deeper parts of the basin the shale is in the gas window.

The Neuquén Basin has been producing for over 100 years and is currently being explored for unconventional resources. 



  • Better define the Vaca Muerta Petroleum System and understand all the genetically related petroleum accumulations;

  • Characterize both the conventional and unconventional accumulations in terms of porosity, permeability, and other reservoir parameters;

  • Determine in situ stress and pore pressure characteristics of the Vaca Muerta

  • Characterize facies and mineralogy;

  • Characterization of geologic, geochemical, geophysical, geomechanical and operational parameters;

  • Development of methods to accurately assess the potential of shale and tight reservoirs for hydrocarbon production from common industry petrophysical measurements;

  • Development of a petrophysical model for source rock maturity and identification of pay;

  • Accurate delineation of the natural fracture system (for guiding horizontal wells to intersect a large number of open fractures);

  • Conduct studies to understand trapping mechanisms;

  • Conduct a subsurface pressure analysis;

  • Conduct coupled geomechanics, acoustic and permeability measurements to determine reservoir and seal characteristics in the Vaca Muerta;

  • Develop a geomechanical model for the Vaca Muerta;

  • Conduct wellbore stability analysis and well-path optimization;

  • Develop drilling and completion best practices:

  • Develop a hydraulic fracture stimulation model and recommend appropriate treatment designs;

  • Determine the optimum hydraulic fracture stimulation spacing and recommend associated completion methods (i.e. plug-n-perf, openhole packer systems, etc.)

  • Conduct preliminary studies of novel concepts for unconventional oil and gas development in shale hydrocarbon resources, and for the initial assessment of the potential of frontier shale gas/oil resources.

  • Develop geo-models and reservoir models where applicable.

Potential Impact of the Project

Industry will benefit from this project in a number of important ways:

  • This study will establish a new predictive stratigraphic framework and conceptual reservoir model for the Vaca Muerta interval that will improve play and prospect assessment, reservoir characterization, and allow a more accurate estimate of reserve volumes.
  • Improved understanding of Vaca Muerta producibility will reduce drilling risk and provide more accurate resource estimates.
  • Companies will significantly improve their cost recovery by optimizing drilling, completion, and stimulation strategies.

Background and Existing Technologies/Methodologies

The Neuquén basin is located in west-central Argentina (Figures 1, 2).   The basin is the leading producer of hydrocarbons in Argentina and covers 137,000 km2.  The basin is a foreland basin is bounded by the San Rafael Uplift to the northeast, the North Patagonia Massif to the south, and the Andean Orogenic belt to the west.  Up to 7 km of sediments have been deposited in the basin center (Figure 3).  Three petroleum systems have been identified in the basin: Los Molles-Tres Esquinas; Vaca Muerta-Sierras Blancas; and Agrio.  This study will focus on the Vaca Muerta-Sierra Blanca petroleum system.

The source beds in this system include the Vaca Muerta (Late Jurassic Tithonian) and Quintuco (Early Cretaceous Berriasian) (Figure 5).  The Vaca Muerta petroleum system source beds consists of Type I and Type II organic-rich source beds that range in thickness from 500 to 1200 m. The source beds are interpreted to have deposited in a deep, shelf setting.  The TOC’s for the Vaca Muerta range from 2-6 wt.% (Figure 6).  The source beds are located in the oil window that occurs between vitrinite reflectance values of 0.6 to 1.2 over a large area of the Neuquén Basin (Figure 7).  The liquid rich and wet gas window is between vitrinite reflectance values of 1.2 and 1.5.  The gas window starts at approximately vitrinite reflectance values greater than 1.5.  The Vaca Muerta source beds represent a classic inverted system (similar to the Austin Chalk and Eagle Ford) with oil up-dip and gas down-dip.

  • Copies of all theses, reports, posters,
             power point presentations
  • Two meetings per year
  • Core workshops
  • Private website

     $100,000 per year and/or in-kind data
     Year-to-year commitment



    Special thanks to Plus Petrol and M. Pereira for our Banner Photo.

Foreland Basins in South America
Neuquen Basin
Cross section through Neuquen Basin

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