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BP only replaced 6 per cent of its 2012 oil production, excluding its Russian joint venture TNK-BP, an unusually low figure that reflects the UK company’s slow recovery since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

BP said that at a group level, its reserves replacement ratio was 77 per cent – a figure the oil major described as “abnormally low”. BP said it has averaged above 100 per cent over the past 20 years.

But in its core upstream segment, which excludes TNK-BP, the result was even lower – just 6 per cent. For TNK-BP, which BP is selling to the Russian energy group Rosneft, the figure was 242 per cent.

The reserves replacement ratio is one of the key metrics for assessing an oil company’s performance. It measures the extent to which it replaces the crude oil it produces with new reserves, such as those discovered through exploration. A company could eventually run out of oil if it fails to maintain the ratio at 100 per cent or higher.

“Less than 10 per cent for an oil company the size of BP is very unusual,” said Iain Reid, an analyst at Jefferies. “If BP books less than 100 per cent reserve replacement over a period of time, it suggests production growth will be tough to achieve.”

He said BP’s record might improve once it has completed the sale of TNK-BP, which will leave it with a 20 per cent stake in Rosneft. That will give it exposure to one of the largest oil companies, which is expected to grow strongly in the coming years as it pushes into unexplored parts of Russia such as the Arctic.

Others downplayed the figure. “Reserve booking is very lumpy,” said Fadel Gheit, an oil analyst at Oppenheimer and Co. “The only way to judge the reserve replacement . . . is to take the five-year average.”

The majors used to have little trouble replenishing but that changed as the balance of power switched to oil-producing states, especially in the Middle East, who shut the majors out.

With control of the world’s oil reserves now in the hands of big state-owned energy groups such as Russia’s Gazprom and Saudi Aramco, western oil companies have to run ever faster just to keep still.

The majors have had a varying degree of success in expanding reserves. ExxonMobil said last month that its replacement ratio for 2012 was 115 per cent. Royal Dutch Shell’s, in contrast, was just 44 per cent.

One reason for that was the US shale boom, which has caused a big drop in the price of North American natural gas. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires companies to use average prices for the year in reserves calculations, and the price of Henry Hub gas in the US averaged only $2.80 per million British thermal units last year.

BP said that was one of the key reasons why it had been forced to reduce its reported reserves. It also blamed “unusually low” reserve additions from new oil and gas projects. Typically, the reserves associated with a particular project can only be booked once a company has taken a final investment decision. BP took FID on only three such projects last year, compared to an annual average of eight over the past five years, it said.

BP was also forced to write down some of its Alaskan fields because of revised estimates of their later-life costs. It also de-booked the reserves of a big offshore oil project in Alaska, Liberty, which it decided to shelve last year.

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