LONDON - British energy giant BP announced a return to profit on Tuesday but revealed new shock estimates for the cost of its Gulf of Mexico oil spill, putting the expected bill at close to 40 billion dollars.
The new figure is far higher than expected.
BP said it had taken an additional charge of 7.7 billion dollars during the third quarter, bringing the company's own total estimated clean-up and legal costs to 39.9 billion dollars (28.6 billion euros).
The company also reported a net profit of 1.785 billion dollars for the third quarter following a loss of 16.9 billion dollars during the second quarter of this year.
"BP announced today that a strong operating performance across the group helped it return to profit in the third quarter of 2010 despite an additional pre-tax charge of 7.7 billion dollars in respect of the Gulf of Mexico spill," the company said in a statement.
The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster was triggered by a blast on the Deepwater Horizon rig -- leased by BP and operated by Transocean Energy -- that killed 11 workers on April 20.
The broken well was eventually plugged but not before it gushed about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf waters. The spill destroyed hundreds of miles of fragile coastlines and caused BP's share price to collapse.
It also forced the resignation of chief executive Tony Hayward and BP to announce that it was selling assets worth up to 30 billion dollars.
BP's new chief executive Bob Dudley said the latest earnings results showed the company was "well on track for recovery".
"We have made good progress during the quarter. This strong operating performance shows the determination of everyone at BP to move the company forward and rebuild confidence after the terrible events of the past six months," Dudley said in the statement.
"We have also begun to make important changes in the way we operate across the group ... to ensure that safety and risk management are embedded as the absolute priority for every operation, for every person, throughout BP."
Dudley last week insisted that BP would not quit the United States over the disaster that he said had "threatened the very existence" of the company.
US authorities have severely criticised BP over its handling of the disaster, while the company is currently defending itself against tens of billions of dollars in potential US fines and legal liabilities.
BP said on Tuesday that the additional pre-tax charge of 7.7 billion dollars was mainly the result of increased costs for responding to the spill.
"This reflected a delay in completing the relief well that finally sealed the Macondo well in September, additional mandated costs for decontaminating and demobilising vessels involved in the response, claims centre administration costs and additional legal costs," the company added.
BP said that the total charge of 39.9 billion dollars represented its current "best estimate".
It added that its divestment programme was making "good progress", with sales agreements in place totalling about 14 billion dollars compared with a target of 25 to 30 billion dollars by the end of 2011.
BP has meanwhile billed a subsidiary of Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co. up to 1.9 billion dollars to cover costs from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Japanese company said on Tuesday.
The Japanese firm added that MOEX Offshore, wholly owned by a US unit of Mitsui Oil Exploration Co., had withheld payment amid uncertainty "as to how to calculate the total claimed amount".
MOEX Offshore owns 10 percent of the Macondo project operated by BP, while US firm Anadarko Petroleum Corp. owns a 25 percent interest and BP owns the rest.