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

BP p.l.c. – Annual report – 31 December 2020

Industry: oil and gas

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

Intangible assets

Intangible assets, other than goodwill, include expenditure on the exploration for and evaluation of oil and natural gas resources, computer software, patents, licences and trademarks and are stated at the amount initially recognized, less accumulated amortization and accumulated impairment losses.

Intangible assets are carried initially at cost unless acquired as part of a business combination. Any such asset is measured at fair value at the date of the business combination and is recognized separately from goodwill if the asset is separable or arises from contractual or other legal rights.

Intangible assets with a finite life, other than capitalized exploration and appraisal costs as described below, are amortized on a straight-line basis over their expected useful lives. For patents, licences and trademarks, expected useful life is the shorter of the duration of the legal agreement and economic useful life, and can range from three to fifteen years. Computer software costs generally have a useful life of three to five years.

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

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 straightline basis over the estimated period of exploration. Upon internal approval for development and recognition of proved or sanctioned probable reserves of oil and natural gas, 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, that is, the efforts are not successful, 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. Upon internal approval for development and recognition of proved or sanctioned probable reserves, the relevant expenditure is transferred to property, plant and equipment. If development is not approved and no further activity is expected to occur, then the costs are expensed.

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: exploration and appraisal intangible assets

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. The costs are carried based on the current regulatory and political environment or any known changes to that environment. 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.

As a result of the revised price assumptions detailed in Significant judgements and estimates: recoverability of asset carrying values below and a review of bp’s long-term strategic plan, management reviewed bp’s exploration prospects and the carrying value of the associated intangible assets. The outcome of the review resulted in revised judgements over management’s expectations to extract value from certain prospects, thereby leading to material write-offs of the associated exploration and appraisal intangible assets in 2020.

The carrying amount of capitalized costs and further information on the write-offs are included in Note 8.

Property, plant and equipment

Property, plant and equipment owned by the group 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 applicable, 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.

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 certain 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 in accordance with US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations, including the application of prices using 12-month historical price data in assessing the commerciality of technical volumes, are typically used to calculate depreciation, depletion and amortization charges for the group’s oil and gas properties. Therefore, where this approach is adopted, charges are not dependent on management forecasts of future oil and gas prices.

However, for certain oil and natural gas assets, the use of reserves determined in accordance with SEC regulations would result in a charge that is not reflective of the pattern in which the future economic benefits are expected to be consumed. In these limited instances other approaches are applied to determine the reserves base used to calculate depreciation, depletion and amortization, including the use of management’s best estimate of price assumptions as disclosed in Significant judgements and estimates: recoverability of asset carrying values, to determine the commerciality of technical proved reserves.

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 231, which is unaudited. Details on bp’s proved reserves and production compliance and governance processes are provided on page 312. The 2020 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 231.

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 10 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.