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Argentina sees 2020 energy surplus, first in a decade

BUENOS AIRES, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Argentina is on track to record an energy trade surplus for the first time in a decade in 2020, Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said on Thursday, as the South American country ramps up production from its Vaca Muerta shale play.

The sector has experienced strong growth in recent years under the government of market-friendly President Mauricio Macri, who has attracted investments in Vaca Muerta, a huge formation of shale oil and gas, which could host one of the largest unconventional reserves in the world.

"Last year we had a deficit of 2.3 (billion dollars). With the projections from the developments that are already underway in Vaca Muerta, next year this balance will turn positive by billions of dollars," said Lopetegui.

Speaking at an agricultural congress in Buenos Aires, he added that the country would reach an energy trade balance as expected this year.

Argentina's energy industry, however, faces some uncertainty after Macri was soundly defeated by the populist-leaning opposition in a primary vote last month, dashing his hopes of winning the country's general election in October.

Peronist opposition frontrunner Alberto Fernandez, speaking in Madrid on Thursday, said the country's energy reserves must benefit local Argentines first of all and there was "no sense in having oil" if he had to rely on foreign firms to get it out of the ground.

Global energy firms have invested in Vaca Muerta, hoping to benefit from the country's development of the huge reserves.

A year ago, Argentina resumed exports of natural gas to Chile, which had been suspended abruptly in 2007. The government recently authorized exports up to 10 million cubic meters of gas per day to its neighbor between Sept. 15 and May 15 2020.

Lopetegui also said that in the first eight months of the year there was a monthly average of 575 hydraulic "fractures" in Vaca Muerta, where production will exceed 100,000 barrels of oil per day by the end of the year.

In August oil production in Argentina grew 4.4% year-on-year to 505,000 barrels per day, he said.

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Richard Chang)