North Sea giant BP looks to bolsters finances amid slump in oil price

Oil major and key North Sea player BP said it was acting quickly to strengthen its finances amid the “most brutal environment for oil and gas businesses in decades”.

BP remains a key player in the North Sea oil sector.

The group is to cut its capital spending plans by 25 per cent, with a new forecast of $12 billion (£9.7bn), as part of cost reductions.

However, it stressed that no company employees will be laid off during the next three months as a result of coronavirus-related cost-trimming.

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BP added that it will reduce output from its US shale oil and gas business, with plans to cut investment in its shale arm by some $1bn.

In February, the group announced first oil from a key North Sea field after beating forecasts with its latest results. It hailed “encouraging” early production from the Alligin field, west of Shetland.

The field, which forms part of the Greater Schiehallion Area, is estimated to have some 20 million barrels of oil equivalent and was originally forecast to produce 12,000 barrels of oil a day at peak.

BP, as operator and on behalf of co-venturer Shell, said the project’s performance had been better than expected, reaching 15,000 barrels a day at peak since start-up in late December.

On Tuesday, Shell itself warned that it expects to take a hit of up to $800 million (£650m) in the first quarter.

The price of oil has crashed in recent weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, with Brent crude falling to an 18-year low on Monday.

BP said it expects to achieve around $2.5bn in cost savings by the end of 2021 as it looks to mitigate the impact of the lower oil prices.

Chief executive Bernard Looney told investors: “We are now acting quickly and decisively to further strengthen our financial frame in response to the currently volatile and extremely challenging market conditions.

“I have been incredibly inspired by the response of colleagues globally to the coronavirus situation. They are taking care of each other, supporting their communities, and identifying new ways to safely drive down costs and strengthen our finances.

“I truly believe that our purpose is driving our actions during this crisis,” he added.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, noted: “Oil prices are still on the back foot as storage capacity continues to fill up in a world where demand has been crushed and the taps are still open wide.

“The black stuff also had its worst ever quarter sliding over 60 per cent, with most of that decline happening in March, and has started April in a similarly negative vein dragging the oil majors lower in early trade, with BP and Royal Dutch Shell on the back foot,” he added.

Fiona Nicholls, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “We hope that as well as BP protecting its staff from virus-related redundancies, it extends the same promise to its contracted workers in the North Sea. This health crisis has made clear how unstable the oil and gas sectors are, and it’s vital that all workers in those industries are protected.

“As fossil fuel giants grapple with the threats to their balance sheets, they must not ignore the ongoing threat of the climate emergency. When the immediate crisis is over and investment resumes it must be channelled towards clean, renewable energy and a resilient, low carbon economy. Oil company workers should be supported in making the transition to new sectors like the offshore wind industry.”

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