Three years in the job and BP's chief can take plaudits

In a few days Bob Dudley, BP's chief executive will be celebrating three years in the job. So far, so very good.

Bob Dudley appears to have banished the atmosphere of impending doom that hung over BP three years ago. F Carter Smith / Bloomberg News
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In a few days Bob Dudley, BP's chief executive, will be celebrating three years in the job. How has the company fared so far under the stewardship of the 57-year-old New Yorker?
Back in the summer of 2010, you might be forgiven for thinking BP was locked in a cycle of crises that would lead ultimately to its collapse. There were serious doubts about its ability to recover from multiple disasters in the environmental and corporate arenas.
It's worth pointing out early on that Mr Dudley appears to have banished the atmosphere of impending doom that hung over BP back then, and made the British oil giant look like a normal company again. One facing challenges, of course, but not one about to sink beneath the weight of these issues.
The biggest problem, the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and the liabilities it created for BP, is still there. But it has moved down the scale of political crisis and now looks like a very complicated and expensive legal action.
To date, BP has spent or provisioned more than US$40 billion on clean-up, restoration costs and settling claims by individuals, businesses and authorities. It believes some claims now coming before it are exaggerated and without merit.
But the Gulf of Mexico, where BP is back operating as the largest deepwater operator, is no longer in crisis, although its effects will be felt for years to come.
The other great challenge back then was in Russia, Mr Dudley's direct area of expertise when he was in charge of the business there. BP was locked in a fractious and potentially damaging relationship with TNK, which had destabilised it for years in the energy-rich country and threatened to immerse BP in the sinister politics of the Russian business world.
He has cut through that knot quite deftly, swapping the TNK stake for a bundle of cash and a 20 per cent stake in Rosneft, the country's oil giant favoured by the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin is obviously a good man to have onside. Mr Dudley can now view the Russian "problem" as an opportunity. Other little local difficulties around the world have also been ironed out.
In Azerbaijan, BP got into a public spat with the president Ilham Aliyev over disputed production figures, which at one stage threatened to put its privileged position there at risk.
That has been defused by a deal to manage production more efficiently in coming years, and could pave the way for important investment decisions on the $40bn Shah Deniz 2 gasfield in the Caspian.
In the UAE, there was some embarrassment for BP when it appeared the company had not been invited to take part in the talks for the forthcoming new oil concession.
That too has been ironed out, and while there is no guarantee BP will win any of the concession, it believes its track record in the Arabian Gulf will stand it in good stead.
It sees opportunities across the world to add to its upstream business, with the focus on investing for medium term cash-generation but leaving open options for longer-term growth. Angola, Azerbaijan, the Gulf of Mexico and Britain's North Sea are regarded as high margin areas of opportunity.
There are new prospects in deepwater areas stretching from Brazil to Nova Scotia in Canada and down to Namibia.
But the United States will always be the focus of BP, especially under Mr Dudley's leadership. With the prospect of American self-sufficiency in energy thanks to shale reserves, it will become an even more important market.
BP believes that by 2030, 99 per cent of America's energy needs will be supplied domestically. That is why BP will continue to invest heavily in the US, and why it must recover the prestige it enjoyed there before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
So Mr Dudley can look back with satisfaction on his first three years as BP's chief.
But, as ever in the oil business, there will always be challenges ahead.