Monday, August 30, 2010

BP's life on the frontiers at risk

LONDON — At a celebration of BP's centennial last October, CEO Tony Hayward boasted to guests that the oil company "lives on the frontiers of the energy industry."
But last week, in the first major sign that the Gulf oil spill may have caused lasting damage to the company's long-term strategy of embracing projects with high risks, BP decided not to bid on potentially lucrative license to drill for oil off the coast of Greenland.

The Arctic setback comes as BP's plans to begin deep-water drilling in Libya and the North Sea have been delayed, and its vast offshore U.S. operations remain under a cloud.

BP may face less difficulty in carrying out risky projects in parts of the world where regulation is less restrictive, such as in Angola, Russia and Iraq. But it can ill afford another major accident as years of investigations and costly lawsuits linked to the Gulf spill loom.

To help cover the costs of the spill, BP has begun shedding assets around the world, with a goal of raising $30 billion. Analysts say that cleanup, fines and lawsuits could cost BP more than that, although the company appears to have avoided some worst-case environmental scenarios, like oil washing up the East Coast.

Safety may now come first

By selling mostly land-based assets, BP is signaling that it intends to remain a deep-water driller.

Still, with Hayward gone soon, incoming CEO Bob Dudley is expected to mimic the safety-first strategy pursued by ExxonMobil Corp. after its historic 1989 spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

For example, Exxon quickly appointed an executive to develop a new inspection system that would examine every major piece of equipment within the company's global operation.

"I don't see (BP) marching off into new frontiers anytime soon," said Dougie Youngson, an analyst with Arbuthnot Securities in London.

The company's aggressive growth, including its acquisition of Amoco in 1998, made it the largest producer of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. And, until the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, it would have been expected to be at the center of the new oil rush in the Arctic.

Contributing: Associated Press reporters Chris Kahn, David Koenig, Robert Barr and Jan Olsen.

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