Oil company exploration and development expenditure – successful efforts, significant judgement

BP p.l.c. – Annual report – 31 December 2018

Industry: oil and gas

1. Significant accounting policies, judgements, estimates and assumptions (extract)
Oil and natural gas exploration, appraisal and development expenditure
Oil and natural gas exploration, appraisal and development expenditure is accounted for using the principles of the successful efforts method of accounting as described below.

Licence and property acquisition costs
Exploration licence and leasehold property acquisition costs are capitalized within intangible assets and are reviewed at each reporting date to confirm that there is no indication that the carrying amount exceeds the recoverable amount. This review includes confirming that exploration drilling is still under way or planned or that it has been determined, or work is under way to determine, that the discovery is economically viable based on a range of technical and commercial considerations, and sufficient progress is being made on establishing development plans and timing. If no future activity is planned, the remaining balance of the licence and property acquisition costs is written off. Lower value licences are pooled and amortized on a straight-line basis over the estimated period of exploration. Upon recognition of proved reserves and internal approval for development, the relevant expenditure is transferred to property, plant and equipment.

Exploration and appraisal expenditure
Geological and geophysical exploration costs are recognized as an expense as incurred. Costs directly associated with an exploration well are initially capitalized as an intangible asset until the drilling of the well is complete and the results have been evaluated. These costs include employee remuneration, materials and fuel used, rig costs and payments made to contractors. If potentially commercial quantities of hydrocarbons are not found, the exploration well costs are written off. If hydrocarbons are found and, subject to further appraisal activity, are likely to be capable of commercial development, the costs continue to be carried as an asset. If it is determined that development will not occur then the costs are expensed.

Costs directly associated with appraisal activity undertaken to determine the size, characteristics and commercial potential of a reservoir following the initial discovery of hydrocarbons, including the costs of appraisal wells where hydrocarbons were not found, are initially capitalized as an intangible asset. When proved reserves of oil and natural gas are determined and development is approved by management, the relevant expenditure is transferred to property, plant and equipment.

The determination of whether potentially economic oil and natural gas reserves have been discovered by an exploration well is usually made within one year of well completion, but can take longer, depending on the complexity of the geological structure. Exploration wells that discover potentially economic quantities of oil and natural gas and are in areas where major capital expenditure (e.g. an offshore platform or a pipeline) would be required before production could begin, and where the economic viability of that major capital expenditure depends on the successful completion of further exploration or appraisal work in the area, remain capitalized on the balance sheet as long as such work is under way or firmly planned.

Development expenditure
Expenditure on the construction, installation and completion of infrastructure facilities such as platforms, pipelines and the drilling of development wells, including service and unsuccessful development or delineation wells, is capitalized within property, plant and equipment and is depreciated from the commencement of production as described below in the accounting policy for property, plant and equipment.

Significant judgement: oil and natural gas accounting
Judgement is required to determine whether it is appropriate to continue to carry costs associated with exploration wells and exploratory-type stratigraphic test wells on the balance sheet. This includes costs relating to exploration licences or leasehold property acquisitions. It is not unusual to have such costs remaining suspended on the balance sheet for several years while additional appraisal drilling and seismic work on the potential oil and natural gas field is performed or while the optimum development plans and timing are established. All such carried costs are subject to regular technical, commercial and management review on at least an annual basis to confirm the continued intent to develop, or otherwise extract value from, the discovery. Where this is no longer the case, the costs are immediately expensed.

One of the circumstances that indicate an entity should test such assets for impairment is that the period for which the entity has a right to explore in the specific area has expired or will expire in the near future, and is not expected to be renewed. BP has leases in the Gulf of Mexico making up a prospect, some with terms that were scheduled to expire at the end of 2013 and some with terms that were scheduled to expire at the end of 2014. A significant proportion of our capitalized exploration and appraisal costs in the Gulf of Mexico relate to this prospect. This prospect requires the development of subsea technology to ensure that the hydrocarbons can be extracted safely. BP is in negotiation with the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in relation to seeking extension of these leases so that the discovered hydrocarbons can be developed. BP remains committed to developing this prospect and expects that the leases will be renewed and, therefore, continues to carry the capitalized costs on its balance sheet. The carrying amount of capitalized costs is included in Note 8.

Property, plant and equipment
Property, plant and equipment is stated at cost, less accumulated depreciation and accumulated impairment losses. The initial cost of an asset comprises its purchase price or construction cost, any costs directly attributable to bringing the asset into the location and condition necessary for it to be capable of operating in the manner intended by management, the initial estimate of any decommissioning obligation, if any, and, for assets that necessarily take a substantial period of time to get ready for their intended use, directly attributable general or specific finance costs. The purchase price or construction cost is the aggregate amount paid and the fair value of any other consideration given to acquire the asset. The capitalized value of a finance lease is also included within property, plant and equipment.

Expenditure on major maintenance refits or repairs comprises the cost of replacement assets or parts of assets, inspection costs and overhaul costs. Where an asset or part of an asset that was separately depreciated is replaced and it is probable that future economic benefits associated with the item will flow to the group, the expenditure is capitalized and the carrying amount of the replaced asset is derecognized. Inspection costs associated with major maintenance programmes are capitalized and amortized over the period to the next inspection. Overhaul costs for major maintenance programmes, and all other maintenance costs are expensed as incurred.

Oil and natural gas properties, including related pipelines, are depreciated using a unit-of-production method. The cost of producing wells is amortized over proved developed reserves. Licence acquisition, common facilities and future decommissioning costs are amortized over total proved reserves. The unit-of-production rate for the depreciation of common facilities takes into account expenditures incurred to date, together with estimated future capital expenditure expected to be incurred relating to as yet undeveloped reserves expected to be processed through these common facilities. Information on the carrying amounts of the group’s oil and natural gas properties, together with the amounts recognized in the income statement as depreciation, depletion and amortization is contained in Note 12 and Note 5 respectively.

Estimates of oil and natural gas reserves determined by applying US Securities and Exchange Commission regulations including the determination of prices using 12-month historical data are used to calculate depreciation, depletion and amortization charges for the group’s oil and gas properties. The impact of changes in estimated proved reserves is dealt with prospectively by amortizing the remaining carrying value of the asset over the expected future production.

The estimation of oil and natural gas reserves and BP’s process to manage reserves bookings is described in Supplementary information on oil and natural gas on page 210, which is unaudited. Details on BP’s proved reserves and production compliance and governance processes are provided on page 286. The 2018 movements in proved reserves are reflected in the tables showing movements in oil and natural gas reserves by region in Supplementary information on oil and natural gas (unaudited) on page 210.

Other property, plant and equipment is depreciated on a straight-line basis over its expected useful life. The typical useful lives of the group’s other property, plant and equipment are as follows:

Land improvements                                     15 to 25 years
Buildings                                                         20 to 50 years
Refineries                                                        20 to 30 years
Petrochemicals plants                                  20 to 30 years
Pipelines                                                          10 to 50 years
Service stations                                              15 years
Office equipment                                           3 to 7 years
Fixtures and fittings                                      5 to 15 years

The expected useful lives and depreciation method of property, plant and equipment are reviewed on an annual basis and, if necessary, changes in useful lives or the depreciation method are accounted for prospectively.

An item of property, plant and equipment is derecognized upon disposal or when no future economic benefits are expected to arise from the continued use of the asset. Any gain or loss arising on derecognition of the asset (calculated as the difference between the net disposal proceeds and the carrying amount of the item) is included in the income statement in the period in which the item is derecognized.