Accounting policies for decommissioning and for environmental liabilities, significant estimates and judgements. Oil company

BP p.l.c. – Annual report – 31 December 2021

Industry: oil and gas

1. Significant accounting policies, judgements, estimates and assumptions (extract)

Provisions and contingencies

Provisions are recognized when the group has a present legal or constructive obligation as a result of a past event, it is probable that an outflow of resources embodying economic benefits will be required to settle the obligation and a reliable estimate can be made of the amount of the obligation. Where appropriate, the future cash flow estimates are adjusted to reflect risks specific to the liability.

If the effect of the time value of money is material, provisions are determined by discounting the expected future cash flows at a pre-tax risk-free rate that reflects current market assessments of the time value of money. Where discounting is used, the increase in the provision due to the passage of time is recognized within finance costs. Provisions are discounted using a nominal discount rate of 2.0% (2020 2.5%).

Provisions are split between amounts expected to be settled within 12 months of the balance sheet date (current) and amounts expected to be settled later (non-current).

Contingent liabilities are possible obligations whose existence will only be confirmed by future events not wholly within the control of the group, or present obligations where it is not probable that an outflow of resources will be required or the amount of the obligation cannot be measured with sufficient reliability. Contingent liabilities are not recognized in the consolidated financial statements but are disclosed, if material, unless the possibility of an outflow of economic resources is considered remote.


Liabilities for decommissioning costs are recognized when the group has an obligation to plug and abandon a well, dismantle and remove a facility or an item of plant and to restore the site on which it is located, and when a reliable estimate of that liability can be made. Where an obligation exists for a new facility or item of plant, such as oil and natural gas production or transportation facilities, this liability will be recognized on construction or installation. Similarly, where an obligation exists for a well, this liability is recognized when it is drilled. An obligation for decommissioning may also crystallize during the period of operation of a well, facility or item of plant through a change in legislation or through a decision to terminate operations; an obligation may also arise in cases where an asset has been sold but the subsequent owner is no longer able to fulfil its decommissioning obligations, for example due to bankruptcy. The amount recognized is the present value of the estimated future expenditure determined in accordance with local conditions and requirements. The provision for the costs of decommissioning wells, production facilities and pipelines at the end of their economic lives is estimated using existing technology, at future prices, depending on the expected timing of the activity, and discounted using the nominal discount rate.

An amount equivalent to the decommissioning provision is recognized as part of the corresponding intangible asset (in the case of an exploration or appraisal well) or property, plant and equipment. The decommissioning portion of the property, plant and equipment is subsequently depreciated at the same rate as the rest of the asset. Other than the unwinding of discount on or utilization of the provision, any change in the present value of the estimated expenditure is reflected as an adjustment to the provision and the corresponding asset where that asset is generating or is expected to generate future economic benefits.

Environmental expenditures and liabilities

Environmental expenditures that are required in order for the group to obtain future economic benefits from its assets are capitalized as part of those assets. Expenditures that relate to an existing condition caused by past operations that do not contribute to future earnings are expensed.

Liabilities for environmental costs are recognized when a clean-up is probable and the associated costs can be reliably estimated. Generally, the timing of recognition of these provisions coincides with the commitment to a formal plan of action or, if earlier, on divestment or on closure of inactive sites.

The amount recognized is the best estimate of the expenditure required to settle the obligation. Provisions for environmental liabilities have been estimated using existing technology, at future prices and discounted using a nominal discount rate.


Liabilities for emissions are recognized when the cumulative volumes of gases emitted by the group at the end of the reporting period exceed the allowances granted free of charge held for own use or a set baseline for emissions. The provision is measured at the best estimate of the expenditure required to settle the present obligation at the balance sheet date. It is based on the excess of actual emissions over the free allowances held or set baseline in tonnes (or other appropriate quantity) and is valued at the actual cost of any allowances that have been purchased and held for own use on a first-in-first-out (FIFO) basis, and, if insufficient allowances are held, for the remaining requirement on the basis of the spot market price of allowances at the balance sheet date. The cost of allowances purchased to cover a shortfall is recognized separately on the balance sheet as an intangible asset unless the emission allowances acquired or generated by the group are risk-managed by the shipping & trading function, then they are recognized on the balance sheet as inventory.

Restructuring provisions

The reinvent bp programme, expected to reduce headcount by around 10,000 positions, has resulted in recognition of provisions, primarily in the comparative period, where a detailed formal plan exists, and a valid expectation of risk of redundancy has been made to those affected but where the specific outcomes remain uncertain. Where formal redundancy offers have been made, the obligations for those amounts are reported as payables and, if not, as provisions if unpaid at the year-end.

Significant judgements and estimates: provisions

The group holds provisions for the future decommissioning of oil and natural gas production facilities and pipelines at the end of their economic lives. The largest decommissioning obligations facing bp relate to the plugging and abandonment of wells and the removal and disposal of oil and natural gas platforms and pipelines around the world. Most of these decommissioning events are many years in the future and the precise requirements that will have to be met when the removal event occurs are uncertain. Decommissioning technologies and costs are constantly changing, as are political, environmental, safety and public expectations. The timing and amounts of future cash flows are subject to significant uncertainty and estimation is required in determining the amounts of provisions to be recognized. Any changes in the expected future costs are reflected in both the provision and the asset.

If oil and natural gas production facilities and pipelines are sold to third parties, judgement is required to assess whether the new owner will be unable to meet their decommissioning obligations, whether bp would then be responsible for decommissioning, and if so the extent of that responsibility. The group has assessed that $0.5 billion of decommissioning provisions should be recognized as at 31 December 2021 (2020 no significant provisions) for assets previously sold to third parties where the sale transferred the decommissioning obligation to the new owner.

Decommissioning provisions associated with downstream refineries are generally not recognized, as the potential obligations cannot be measured, given their indeterminate settlement dates. Obligations may arise if refineries cease manufacturing operations and any such obligations would be recognized in the period when sufficient information becomes available to determine potential settlement dates (see Note 32 for further information).

The group performs periodic reviews of its downstream refineries for any changes in facts and circumstances including those relating to the energy transition, that might require the recognition of a decommissioning provision. Portfolio strength and flexibility are such that the point of cessation of manufacturing at the group’s operating refineries cannot yet be reliably determined for the purposes of determining a decommissioning provision.

The provision for environmental liabilities is estimated based on current legal and constructive requirements, technology, price levels and expected plans for remediation. Actual costs and cash outflows can differ from current estimates because of changes in laws and regulations, public expectations, prices, discovery and analysis of site conditions and changes in clean-up technology.

The timing and amount of future expenditures relating to decommissioning and environmental liabilities are reviewed annually. The interest rate used in discounting the cash flows is reviewed quarterly. The nominal interest rate used to determine the balance sheet obligations at the end of 2021 was 2.0% (2020 2.5%), which was based on long-dated US government bonds. The weighted average period over which decommissioning and environmental costs are generally expected to be incurred is estimated to be approximately 17 years (2020 18 years) and 6 years (2020 6 years) respectively. Costs at future prices are determined by applying an inflation rate of 1.5% (2020 1.5%) to decommissioning costs and 2% (2020 2%) for all other provisions. A lower rate is typically applied to decommissioning as certain costs are expected to remain fixed at current or past prices.

The estimated phasing of undiscounted cash flows in real terms for upstream decommissioning is approximately $5.3 billion (2020 $3.9 billion) within the next 10 years, $6.9 billion (2020 $7.7 billion) in 10 to 20 years and the remainder of approximately $6.0 billion (2020 $6.0 billion) after 20 years. The timing and amount of decommissioning cash flows are inherently uncertain and therefore the phasing is management’s current best estimate but may not be what will ultimately occur.

Further information about the group’s provisions is provided in Note 23. Changes in assumptions in relation to the group’s provisions could result in a material change in their carrying amounts within the next financial year. A 0.5 percentage point increase in the nominal discount rate applied could decrease the group’s provision balances by approximately $1.4 billion (2020 $1.2 billion). The pre-tax impact on the group income statement would be a credit of approximately $0.4 billion (2020 $0.3 billion). This level of change reflects past experience of a reasonable change in rate that could arise within the next financial year.

The discounting impact on the group’s decommissioning provisions for oil and gas properties in the oil productions & operations and gas & low carbon energy segments of a two-year change in the timing of expected future decommissioning expenditures is approximately $0.2 billion (2020 $0.3 billion). Management currently does not consider a change of greater than two years to be reasonably possible in the next financial year. If all expected future decommissioning expenditures were 10% higher, then these decommissioning provisions would increase by approximately $1.6 billion (2020 $1.4 billion) and a pre-tax charge of approximately $0.4 billion (2020 $0.5 billion) would be recognized.

As described in Note 32, the group is subject to claims and actions for which no provisions have been recognized. The facts and circumstances relating to particular cases are evaluated regularly in determining whether a provision relating to a specific litigation should be recognized or revised. Accordingly, significant management judgement relating to provisions and contingent liabilities is required, since the outcome of litigation is difficult to predict.