BP's planned operations

New territories on the agenda for a leaner BP

BP aims to emerge from the coming year as a slimmed-down operation more focused on exploration.

BP's investors were given their first detailed look at plans for its post-Gulf of Mexico future this month as the UK oil and gas giant attempted to move on from the worst year in its history.

It will take BP years to draw a definitive line under the Deepwater Horizon spill. But after a 2010 of unremitting bad news, its shareholders needed to hear that the group has more constructive plans for their investments than settling compensations claims.

New chief executive Bob Dudley obliged with a strategy update that mapped a route to a leaner, more exploration-focused and ' as the company is keen to stress ' safer BP.

The group will look for buyers for its refineries in Texas and California, halving its refining presence in the US, as part of a plan to divest itself of assets worth $30bn by the end of this year.

The disposal programme will further cut a production level that has already fallen due to the halting of operations in the Gulf of Mexico, said BP. By the end of 2010 production was running at about 3.7 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) per day, down 9 per cent on the 2009 figure. In 2011 this is predicted to drop to 3.4 millon boe.

By the end of 2016, however, the group expects to start 32 new operations, which will add a million boe a day. And in a bid to further reassure investors, it reeled off a list of territories where it has secured access to new basins, among them Brazil, Angola, Australia and the South China Sea.

Most significant is an alliance with Russian oil group Rosneft that would include exploration of the Russian Arctic, though that deal is the subject of a legal dispute with BP's existing partners in Russia that will be settled by arbitration.

Although some analysts noted that BP's 2010 fourth-quarter profit of $4.4bn was below expectations, the City of London could at least see a management team that is looking to the future.

Tony Shepard, oil analyst at stockbroker Charles Stanley, said although BP faces 'a tough 2011' as it resolves outstanding issues in the US, the work carried out over the last six months showed a determination to reposition itself for the long term.

The promise of access to new regions was especially welcome, said Shepard, who also applauded the shift in emphasis to exploration and divestments in downstream operations.

If the planned alliance with Rosneft can clear its legal hurdles and the Russian Arctic proves fertile territory, BP's prospects could suddenly be turbocharged. 'If that turns out to be another Alaska it would be particularly significant,' said Shepard, who cautioned that the oil group faces years of tough operations in one of the world's harshest environments before it knows whether that is the case.

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