BP remains one of the world's three largest independent petroleum producers and refiners, jostling with Shell and ExxonMobil for leadership of the global market. However, it has wrestled with a string of problems over the past ten years. In the consumer sector, the group operates an extensive global network of service stations under brands including BP, Arco and Aral, and its portfolio of motor oils and lubricants is led by worldwide market leader Castrol. The current business was created from a series of mammoth takeovers in the late 1990s, including that of US giants Amoco and Arco. These replenished the group's ageing oil reserves and gave it a commanding network of service stations throughout the US and Europe. More recently BP had begun to shape up as one of the forces to be reckoned with in the exploitation of Russia's huge untapped reserves until interference from that country's government. Soon afterwards, BP's US operations, and for a while the group's very future, came under threat from a catastrophic drilling accident in the Gulf of Mexico which created the worst environmental disaster in history and cost billions in clean-up expenses and regulatory penalties.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Jan 2017: Hard-pressed Australian supermarket giant Woolworths agreed to sell its entire estate of around 530 combined petrol stations and convenience stores to BP for almost A$1.8bn (around US$1.3bn). That business was formed from a previous merger with Caltex. BP already has a branded presence in Australia but the majority of its petrol stations there currently are franchised. The new acquisition, which is subject to regulatory approval, would more than double local share to 12%, but is unlikely to complete before 2018. Woolworths plans to use the cash from the deal to reinvigorate its grocery division, struggling with competition from main rival Coles and fast-expanding Aldi.
Adbrands Weekly Update 9th July 2015: Two British companies suffered punitive penalties from US regulators. BP finalised an $18.7bn fine to settle federal, state and local government lawsuits arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It's the biggest such fine in history, but less than was feared, and payment will be spread over as long as 15 years. BP's total fines related to the incident are expected to hit $54bn. By contrast, the $13bn fine handed down to RBS for misleading its customers over the sale of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis is more than analysts had expected. It's also well above the provisions already set aside by the bank. That will force the government to cut the offer price for the expected sell-off of part of its 79% holding.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Nov 2012: Oil giant BP finalised a settlement with the US Department of Justice over criminal charges relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. It agreed to pay a record $4.5bn in fines and damages to settle charges of criminal negligence. A further $525m will be paid to the SEC to resolve a civil case that it misled investors over the rate at which oil was leaking. Both payments have yet to be approved by court, but would increase the total costs set aside to-date by BP for the disaster to $42bn. Negotiations are continuing to settle civil charges over the devastating pollution caused by the spill, during which almost 5m barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. That fine is expected to be higher, even as much as $21bn, although most observers expect a final deal at $10bn.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: The current group is the combination of several separate businesses, some dating back to the late 19th century, all of which were combined under the BP name in a string of mammoth mergers between 1997 and 2001. The oldest brand within the group is Arco, originally the Atlantic Petroleum Storage Company, first founded in 1866 in the US to store and ship crude and refined oils. It was acquired by John D Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust in 1874 before being cut loose again by the forced break-up of Standard Oil by the US government in 1911. Atlantic began to develop its gas station network from 1915, and later acquired several rivals including Richfield and Sinclair, which added substantial oil pipelines and crude oil production facilities throughout the US. Following the Richfield purchase the group became Atlantic Richfield Company, or Arco. By 1984 Arco was established as the leading gasoline marketer in the West of America, while also making significant discoveries of new resources around the world. The company was the first foreign explorer with access to the Chinese mainland and developed the country's first offshore commercial gas reserves in the 1980s. In 1997 it agreed a joint venture with Russia's Lukoil to develop reserves in in Russia and other countries.
Amoco was formed in 1889 by Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust to build a refinery in northwestern Indiana. Spun out of Standard Oil Trust in 1911 as Standard Oil of Indiana, it began to develop its own gas station network to sell other companies products, while also developing an important new process ("thermal cracking") for increasing the yield of gasoline from a barrel of crude oil. It adopted the Amoco name from the American Oil Company, which it acquired in the 1920s. The company went looking for its own reserves from the 1930s, discovering substantial resources in Texas in 1935. Amoco acquired a number of chemical manufacturing facilities in the 1940s and in 1947 drilled the first ever offshore well out of the sight of land in the Gulf of Mexico, before moving into Canada and other international markets in the 1950s. Over the next 40 years the group established production or refining facilities in more than 30 countries worldwide in addition to its substantial petroleum and chemicals operation in the US. But it also made negative headlines in 1978 when its huge Amoco Cadiz tanker went aground off the coast of France, spilling 120,000 tons of oil into the sea. The company was later fined $128m. By the late 1990s the company was the #5 oil producer in the US.
Burmah Castrol was itself already the product of a merger between two British companies, Burmah Oil and CC Wakefield & Company. Founded in 1886, Burmah was formed to search for crude oil in the Asian country of Burma, and was already a substantial business by the early 20th century. It was the original backer of what later became British Petroleum, before selling a majority of its stake to the British government, and was later an investor in Shell as well. By the 1920s it was a fully integrated exploration, production, refining and marketing operation, working mainly in Asia. Later it moved into the UK, and was the first company to discover oil in the North Sea in 1966. That same year Burmah Oil acquired CC Wakefield & Co, which had been formed in 1899 to sell industrial and railway lubricants. In 1907 Wakefield began marketing motor oil for the rapidly expanding automobile market. To create an oil that would remain runny enough to work efficiently at very low temperatures but remain thick in heat, Wakefield's researchers added castor oil to the base product, which led to the coining of the brand name Castrol two years later. By 1939 the company was trading across Europe, North America, Asia and southern Africa, and it floated in 1943. Renamed Castrol Group in 1960 it moved unsuccessfully into other fields including metal treatments, waterproofing compounds and plastics production and this led to its takeover by Burmah in 1966. Later the combined Burmah Castrol group expanded internationally and moved into specialty chemicals and other areas.
Yet all three companies were themselves swallowed up by BP, a company which has become one of the giants of the industry despite a most uncertain beginning. The group owes its origins to the adventurer William Knox D'Arcy, who in 1901 obtained a concession from the Shah of Persia to explore for the country's suspected oil resources. Despite high hopes, the project almost proved a complete disaster. Hampered by tribal conflicts and severe weather conditions, Knox D'Arcy's engineers spent several years without discovering sufficient commercial reserves. After running out of funds, he was eventually forced to sell his concession to the already substantial Burmah Oil Company, although he remained a director of the project.
Finally a large field was discovered in 1908 in southwest Persia, the first commercial oil field anywhere in the Middle East. Burmah Oil established The Anglo-Persian Oil Company the following year to exploit the find. However this too proved a financial burden because of the stranglehold maintained by the Royal Dutch-Shell partnership over the global industry. Burmah Oil sought support from the British government, selling the Admiralty office a majority stake in Anglo-Persian in return for a deal to supply the country's naval forces with fuel. When war with Germany broke out in 1914, the government transferred to Anglo-Persian the assets it had seized from a German company which had been selling its own oil to consumers under the name British Petroleum. This suddenly gave Anglo-Persian an extensive distribution network of more than 500 depots across the country as well as rail and road tankers. As a result, Anglo-Persian began to expand its sales operations within the UK, selling its own cans of "motor spirit" under the BP name from around 1917. A member of the company's purchasing department won a staff competition to design the first trademark, which featured the letters BP set within a winged shield. Gradually, yellow and green were adopted as the brand's colours.
As a partially nationalised company, Anglo-Persian expanded rapidly after World War I, exploring for oil in other areas of the Middle East, as well as Canada, South America, Africa and Europe. It built numerous refineries around the world, and was established as one of the world's leading oil businesses by the 1930s. However no other oil resources came close to matching its original find, and its refinery in Persia was still the world's biggest when that country renamed itself Iran in 1935. Anglo-Persian renamed too, becoming The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.
Almost inevitably, the relationship with the Iranian government began to sour by the close of that decade as resentment grew over British exploitation of the country's natural reserves. Tortuous negotiations to resolve the dispute finally failed in 1951, and Iran confiscated Anglo-Iranian's assets and nationalised them. The resulting international crisis led to further negotiations. Finally Iran agreed to hand back the concession to a consortium of international producers in 1954 in return for a greater slice of the profits. Now obliged to share its facilities with others, Anglo-Iranian changed its name to British Petroleum in a symbolic break with its past. It was also forced to develop operations elsewhere to compensate for the reduction in revenues from Iran, and developed further sidelines in petrochemicals and lubricant production.
However the most important development was the discovery of substantial gas reserves in the British North Sea. British Petroleum became the leading exploiter of these resources, discovering West Sole in 1965, and then the much larger Forties field in 1970, brought on-stream in 1975. At its peak, Forties produced half a million barrels a day, equivalent to one-quarter of the UK's daily energy requirement. Meanwhile, after 10 years of exploration in Alaska, the company was also rewarded with the discovery of the massive Prudhoe Bay oil field. With insufficient resources in the United States to exploit this field, BP sold rights to US-based Standard Oil of Ohio, another offshoot of Rockefeller's original oil monopoly, in return for a minority shareholding and an option to take majority control of Standard if production exceeded 600,000 barrels a day. This option was finally triggered in 1978. But by then two further crises had beset the industry, pushing up prices dramatically. In 1973 most oil producing countries of the Middle East stopped supply to the United States, causing prices to triple virtually overnight. Five years later, the Islamic Revolution in Iran led to a temporary suspension of supply from what had been until then the world's second biggest exporter.
These tremors encouraged further diversification. During the 1970s, BP became involved in animal feed and breeding, consumer foods and related products. It also began mining for coal and other minerals in the US and other territories, acquiring British-based mining finance house Selection Trust in 1980, while subsidiary Standard Oil acquired Kennecott, America's largest copper producer. The group acquired major chemicals manufacturing facilities in Europe from Union Carbide and Monsanto. By the end of the 1980s, however, the group was wrestling with too many diverse interests, the highest exploration costs in the industry, and a portfolio of oil reserves all past their peak. The turning point came in 1987, when BP launched a $4.7bn bid to acquire the 45% of Standard Oil it did not already own, followed by British oil explorer and producer Britoil. Also that year, the British government floated its remaining 31% shareholding in BP. Shortly afterwards, the group embarked on a huge restructuring in order to consolidate its attention on hydrocarbons, selling off most of its minerals and nutritional businesses by 1992. At the same time it reduced employee numbers from 129,000 in 1987 to around 59,000 by the end of the 1990s.
Despite its mammoth size, BP managed to surprise most analysts with the skill and speed with which it consolidated its huge empire, while also rapidly boosting its profitability. Much of the credit for this went to new CEO John Browne, appointed in 1992 after a long career in the group's Exploration & Production division. One of his first moves was to secure future oil reserves by launching a major push into developing oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caspian Sea and off Angola. In 1996 he was the architect of a deal to combine BP's fuels and lubricants operations in Europe with those of Mobil, before taking full control of them in 1999. He also initiated an even more ambitious growth strategy in 1999, with the deal to acquire Amoco, by then wrestling with a dip in profitability as a result of international exploration and production, as well as the massive fine relating to the Amoco Cadiz oil spill. The $52bn deal was the biggest-ever industrial takeover at the time. Renamed BP Amoco, the giant business then paid $32bn a year later to snap up Arco, which was wrestling with the fallout from its unprofitable joint venture in Russia. In 2001, Burmah Castrol joined the party with a price tag of $4.7bn. The Amoco tag was dropped from the BP name later that year. A new corporate logo, known as the "helios", was introduced in 2000.
The stream of acquisitions has continued. In two transactions in 2001 and 2002, the group transferred its shareholding in German gas producer Ruhrgas to that country's E.On, in exchange for control of Veba Oel, a gas explorer and producer which also owned the country's leading service station brand, Aral. Veba's exploration and production operations were sold off. At the same time BP sold off some of its mature gas and oil reserves, including the Forties North Sea field, in order to concentrate on developing resources. In 2003, in a major strategic move, BP made the biggest direct foreign investment to-date in post-Soviet Russia by agreeing to merge its interests in the country with those of Alfa Group and Access-Renova in a deal worth around $7.7bn. BP ended up with a 50% stake in the combined business, TNK-BP, Russia's third-largest oil company.
In 2005, a massive explosion at one of the company's largest US refineries in Texas killed 15 employees and injured more almost 200 more. A second explosion rocked the same plant four months later. The group later agreed to pay safety regulators a fine of $21m, and agreed financial settlements with the families of workers killed or injured. BP is also under pressure in Alaska over allegations that it failed to report oil spills from its pipeline there which caused environmental damage, and it agreed to pay $81m to settle a lawsuit over emissions violations at a California refinery. Also in 2005, Russian government tax inspectors issued a demand to TNK-BP for $1bn, supposedly in relation to unpaid taxes from 2001. Meanwhile the group boosted its presence in developing markets, agreeing a $3bn deal to build a refinery in India in partnership with local company Hindustan Petroleum, and launching talks with Sinopec of China to broaden the terms of their existing partnership.
During summer 2006, tensions were revealed within BP's boardroom when it was reported that CEO Sir John Browne had been forced by non-executive chairman Peter Sutherland to confirm plans for his resignation in accordance with company rules of retirement at the age of 60. Browne had hoped to remain in his post for longer. Another crisis erupted soon afterwards when pipelines at the massive Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska, managed by BP, were found to be severely rusted, forcing the company to shut down the field and suspend its supply of 400,000 barrels of oil per day while repairs were made. Shortly afterwards, the group was also forced to admit that one of its offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico was still leaking oil a year after it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Adding further to its woes, an investigation was launched in the US in August 2006 into allegations that BP manipulated crude oil and unleaded gasoline markets in 2003 and 2004. A month later the group unveiled even more bad news, announcing technical problems at its new Thunder Horse oil field in the Gulf of Mexico which postponed the start of full production from 2007 to 2008. Capping a difficult couple of years, Lord Browne resigned earlier than expected in May 2007, after he was forced to admit that he had lied in court in an attempt to prevent a newspaper publishing allegations about his private life. Following his appointment to the top job, new CEO Tony Hayward sought to make peace with regulators, agreeing to pay fines totalling $380m to settle charges relating to the refinery explosion, oil pipeline leaks and energy trading fraud. Yet in April 2010 the group was at the centre of an even bigger disaster when an oil platform it was leasing in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire and collapsed, causing a massive oil leak which gushed millions of gallons of crude into the open ocean. See full profile for current activities
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