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BP to take $1 billion restructuring charge as oil tumbles

Thunder horse platform, Gulf of MexicoThunder horse platform, Gulf of Mexico
BP has already shrunk its portfolio, and is now shrinking its 84,000 payroll.Courtesy of BP

As if its repeated and unsuccessful challenges to the Deepwater Horizon legal settlement weren’t enough…

BP Plc (BP) said Wednesday it would take a charge of some $1 billion over the next five quarters as it trims its 84,000 strong payroll in the wake of the slump in world oil prices. It didn’t say how many jobs it would cut in the process.

The company, which had already warned it would cut investment by up to $2 billion next year (some 8% of total capital expenditures) said it will also “be looking to pare or re-phase capital expenditure without compromising safety or future growth.”

However, the company didn’t say it would cut output next year in response to the fall in prices. It noted that while it approves projects on the assumption of an average price of $80 a barrel, “it also already tests each one at $60 to understand the resilience of the portfolio at a range of prices.”

On average, BP’s new projects would generate a return of 25% at an oil price of $80/barrel, Lamar McKay, the head of BP’s upstream business, said in a presentation to investors.

McKay said price volatility was inherent to the oil business and said that costs, which tend to lag price developments by 12 to 18 months, should fall in due course, helping to maintain profitability.

Crude prices have tumbled by some 40% since the summer as rebounds in output in Iraq and Libya, along with steady growth in U.S. shale production, have outstripped demand from a slowing global economy. The price of the benchmark blend of crude was again testing a new five-year low early Wednesday, at $62.55 a barrel.

BP is far from being the only oil major having to rethink its business plan in the new price environment. ConocoPhillips Inc. (COP), the U.S.’s third-largest producer, Tuesday slashed its investment budget for next year by around $3 billion, or 20%, saying it would defer spending on more marginal projects in the Montney and Duvernay fields in Canada, the Permian Basin in Texas and the Niobrara shale field, which extends over Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas.

Separately Wednesday, BG Group Plc (BRGYY) said it had sold its natural gas pipeline in the state of Queensland in north-eastern Australia for $5 billion, to local pipeline operator APA Group Plc.

BG is trying to reduce its debt level after a number of expensive upstream projects experienced major cost overruns. It said it will book a net profit of $2.7 billion on the sale, which will be offset by a $2 billion write-down of its remaining assets in Queensland.

The QCLNG project is typical of the more expensive, alternative sources of energy that have flourished in a time of high prices. It involves extracting gas trapped in underground coal seams and piping it over 300 miles to the coast for liquefaction and export to markets such as China.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story said that the charge would be spread over five years, not quarters. The mistake has now been corrected.