Argentina’s ambitious drive to emulate the US shale boom is moving ahead after the country delivered its first-ever exports of light crude oil and liquefied natural gas from its massive Vaca Muerta shale deposit in Patagonia earlier this month. Two private-equity firms – the UK’s Riverstone and Argentina’s Southern Cross Group – unveiled plans on Thursday to invest $16om in a 78.4 percent stake in the first exclusively midstream company to operate in the Vaca Muerta, or “Dead Cow”, rock formation.

The newly created company, called Aleph, is being spun off from Vista Oil & Gas, which sent the first cargo oflight oil from Vaca Muerta on June 10 at about the same time that the Argentine oil giant YPF sent the first shipment of LNG from the deposit, which has been billed as the most promising shale oil and gas basin outside the US.  Recently, oil majors Shell and Exxon Mobil have announced their intent to ramp up operations in Vaca Muerta. A gradual rise in exports is expected, with Argentina’s light oil shipments forecast to reach 70,000 barrels a day next year.

“Todaythe wells in Vaca Muerta have reached a level of production that is the same or better than the Permian [in the US]. The market recognizes that,” says Miguel Galuccio, who runs Vista and was previously chief executive of YPF where he led the initial development of Vaca Muerta.

As the only independent public company producing oil in Vaca Muerta, Vista is blazing the trail for others. That could allow Argentina to replicate the US shale revolution, which was driven by independent companies, said Mr. Galuccio.

Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas offers tough lessons  “I have no doubt that that will happen,” said the chief of Vista, which will keep a  21.6 percent stake in Aleph. Specialized midstream companies such as Aleph also played a key role in the US shale boom, he said, adding that by handing over control of midstream activities, funds will be freed up for Vista to invest more in its capital-intensive core business upstream.