James Moore: There's still a big oil spill on BP's road to recovery

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The Independent Online

Outlook BP is back on the right path, at least in the view of American chief executive Bob Dudley, who had the City gushing over his figures like he hopes the 12 new exploration wells BP will dig this year will be gushing with oil.

He has some reason to be cheerful. BP is again making handsome profits, production is up and the tone of forthcoming shareholder meetings will be helped no end by the first dividend increase since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that put BP on the road to hell.

But while BP might now be back on the right path, it has some travelling to do before it's in the right place. The impact of the spill is still all over the numbers. Production is more than 15 per cent lower than it was at peak. And that dividend is only just about half its level when the company was the pension funds' best friend.

There also remains the threat of a big civil trial. Mr Dudley says the company will settle only if it is economically sensible to do so. Which sounds good, but he should have a care.

BP is known by its initials, run by an American, the biggest chunk of its investors are from the US, and a good chunk of its assets are based there. It's stretching it to suggest the company is as American as Mom's apple pie, but when BP people talk football they are as likely to mean big men in body armour crashing into each other as they are 22 men on a pitch chasing after a spherical ball.

None of this matters much back in the good ole US of A. There BP is British Petroleum and the damage done to the Gulf of Mexico was caused by British polluters. As such BP really needs to have dealt with the vast majority of the legal issues relating to the spill before a jury, judge, or any other parts of the court machinery get going. If Mr Dudley can pull that one off, then he'll be able to talk about BP being on the right track.