Oil giant BP reiterated its commitment to North Sea operations yesterday after further details emerged of its plans to sell off more assets.
Directors at the beleaguered group are understood to have held discussions with major shareholders over restructuring the company following the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.
Options under consideration are thought to include splitting up BP by selling off its refineries and petrol stations, scaling back US operations, and doing more engineering in-house rather than outsourcing it.
The restructuring will come on top of the sale of about 10% of group assets that BP was already looking to sell to meet the cost of the spill, which has so far reached £2.29billion.
But BP remains as committed to its North Sea business as ever, a spokesman said yesterday as the firm continued to try to get on top of the technical challenges posed by the leaking well.
Extended testing of the cap over the ruptured pipework in the gulf was drawing to a close last night.
The spokesman said the company’s North Sea activities were a core part of the overall business, adding: “In many ways they are even more important to us now as they are generating cash and that is what BP needs right now.”
BP has its North Sea headquarters in Aberdeen and this part of the business employs more than 3,000 people.
In March, the company signalled a vote of confidence in the North Sea by announcing plans to spend billions of pounds in Scottish waters over the next few years.
The restructuring talks with shareholders are said to be at an early stage, but they will be used to help decide the direction of a formal strategic review that is expected to be launched by the group’s chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, once the ruptured gulf well is finally sealed.
It is thought the changes could leave BP as a significantly smaller firm, focused on exploration in emerging oil regions such as West Africa and Brazil, and lead to it selling off its less-profitable downstream arm.
The downstream business, which is made up of petrol stations and refineries, employs about 51,600 people – more than half of BP’s 80,300 workforce – but accounts for just 3% of the company’s pre-tax profits.
BP’s board is understood to be due to meet later this week to discuss what should be sold off to pay for the oil spill catastrophe.
Discussions are already underway between BP and US oil firm Apache Corporation over the sale of £7.84billion worth of upstream – exploration and production – assets.
Meanwhile, the results of integrity testing in the Gulf of Mexico will determine if the steel casing of a cap placed over the leaking well is sufficiently strong to shut it off in the long term until relief wells are in place.
The cap has proved successful so far in stemming the flow of oil following the devastating Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in April.
BP’s tests were due to finish on Saturday but the company decided to extend them for 24 hours.
A spokesman yesterday said: “It’s not a situation in which we will be able to say straight away if the cap has been successful. The results will need to be assessed.”