Activity at Argentina's Vaca Muerta shale reserve slowed by health worker protests

BUENOS AIRES, April 13 (Reuters) - Production and other activity around Argentina’s huge Vaca Muerta oil and gas reserves in Patagonia were affected on Tuesday by health care workers who blocked roads as part of a protest to demand better wages amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to sources and officials.

The protests generated work stoppages and local fuel shortages, according to a local industry source. Labor strikes are common in Argentina, where companies are hard-pressed to grant wage increases in line with double-digit inflation

“More than 30 production teams had to stop drilling or completing wells,” said the source who asked not to be named.

The workers are demanding higher wages jest when Argentina is getting hit by a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

They say they are not being properly compensated for the risks they are taking. Argentina has seen an increase in new coronavirus cases over recent days, with 57,957 Argentines having died from the virus so far, according to government data.

And the protest comes as Vaca Muerta, an area the size of Belgium, was beginning to show signs of reactivation due to improvements in crude prices and the stimulus plan for gas production established by the government.

Officials in Neuquen province, where Vaca Muerta is partially located, asked protesters to relax the measures.

“But this was not accepted by them,” provincial security chief Vanina Merlo said in a statement.

“They strictly insist on a salary response,” she added in the statement, which also said ground transportation interruptions had affected Vaca Muerta operations.

Argentina’s state-controlled YPF is among the main companies operating in the area. YPF declined to comment on the protests.

Argentina needs to boost production at Vaca Muerta, in order to reduce its energy imports as the government seeks export dollars to protect central bank reserves. (Reporting by Eliana Raszewski, writing by Hugh Bronstein Editing by Marguerita Choy)