By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 8:57 PM
BP said Tuesday that it will restart its suspended dividend payments, put its troubled Texas City refinery up for sale and sell another $13 billion in assets, a move aimed at covering costs flowing from last year's the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The British oil giant also said that it has sent a bill for $6 billion to its partners in the ill-fated Macondo oil well, Anadarko Petroleum and Mitsui, who it believes share liability for the disaster that killed 11 people and leaked nearly 5 million barrels of oil.
BP added $1 billion to its estimate of oil spill costs, bringing pre-tax charges related to the incident to a total of $40.9 billion. That figure does not include any payments by the partners, who say BP bears sole responsibility.
The announcements, including fourth-quarter operating earnings that were about 30 percent higher than a year earlier, closed out a catastrophic year for BP. Yet they painted a picture of a business on course to emerge largely intact, albeit about 15 percent smaller than it was before the spill.
BP chief executive Robert Dudley said that the company was pruning its least essential operations but would increase capital spending to $20 billion this year to explore and develop its most promising oil and gas prospects worldwide, including new frontiers in the Russian Arctic, Australia, the South China Sea and off Brazil's coast.
"We will be a different kind of company in the upstream going forward," said Dudley, who became chief executive after Tony Hayward resigned in the wake of the oil spill disaster. "We are taking this moment to make a broad strategic change," Dudley said, adding that BP would seek "different ways of unlocking value in the portfolio."
But BP executives in a Web cast said that the company's total production of oil and gas was equal to 3.67 million barrels a day, down 9 percent from a year earlier because of divestments, lower output in Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and development delays in the Gulf of Mexico.
Moreover, Dudley said that output would slide to 3.4 million barrels a day this year after further asset sales.
The projections left investors cautious about BP stock on a day when the market rose broadly. Shares of BP closed Tuesday at $47.98, down 51 cents or 1.1 percent. BP stock closed at $60.48 a share on April 20, hours before the Macondo blowout, and fell as low at $27.02 a share in late June.
The restoration of dividend payments was widely anticipated. BP set the new dividend at 7 cents a share, half the previous level. That will cost the company about $5 billion a year, leaving a substantial amount of cash to fund an escrow account for spill damages. Dudley said that BP would be careful to avoid setting the divided so high that it would have to rely on very high commodity prices to meet its payments without borrowing.
BP executives also said that the Texas City refinery, where a 2005 explosion killed 15 people, no longer fit into the company's strategic plans. BP has poured money into upgrading the facility and settling victims' claims since the accident. But it said it now hoped to sell the refinery, the third largest in the United States, by the end of 2012.
BP said it would also sell its Carson refinery near Los Angeles, reducing BP's total U.S. refining capacity by half.
Dudley said he remained committed to deepwater projects, despite last year's spill. He said BP had 19 deepwater wells planned for the Gulf of Mexico and off Angola's shore.