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BP CEO Bob Dudley in 2015. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images

BP CEO Bob Dudley showed a muted appetite for pursuing drilling in new areas off America’s coasts in an exclusive interview with Axios this week.

Why it matters: Dudley's comments throw cold water on the idea oil companies are going to jump on drilling new wells off America’s coasts in response to the Trump administration proposal to open up almost all federal waters to new leasing. The reality is more complicated — and less compelling — than top administration officials have made it seem as they pursue President Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda.

“For us, we’ve got a very full plate in the United States,” Dudley said. “We don’t have a plan that says, ‘Here’s what we’re interested in’ because we have prioritized a lot of activity, including reducing exploration and the size of the company.”

BP has a unique portfolio that’s got Dudley cautious about drilling in new areas, including its continued response to its 2010 oil spill that nearly bankrupted the global oil producer and its already big presence in the Western Gulf of Mexico.

But Dudley’s caution is likely shared by other major oil companies, analysts say, for a few reasons:

  1. Continued low oil prices, relative to 2014.
  2. Pressure by shareholders to continue keeping costs down even as oil prices have risen in recent days to three-year highs.
  3. Continued focus on onshore shale oil and natural gas, which offer cheaper, quicker ways to produce the fuel.
  4. Political, regulatory and litigation obstacles in new areas, such as off the coasts of Pacific and Atlantic states.
“While oil prices are up, companies will not suddenly forget the hard lessons of cost discipline and a clear portfolio strategy that the low price period left them,” said Jamie Webster, senior director for energy at the Boston Consulting Group.

Yes, but: Leasing is not the same as drilling. Companies may still bid for leases even if they have no immediate plans to drill, according to Kevin Book, managing director at independent research firm ClearView Energy Partners. The Interior Department plan released last week is for the years between 2019 and 2024, and a lot can change with oil prices and otherwise between now and then.

Other relevant highlights from our exclusive interview with Dudley:

  • On BP’s interest in drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which is now legally allowed after Republicans included a provision in the new tax law: “The honest answer is we don’t know … so we and I think most companies have got to have a good hard look in the geology over there.”
  • On BP being in the group of companies that has drilled the only well ever in ANWR: “The results of that well are highly confidential, legally protected … Even I haven’t even seen that.”
  • On drilling off the coast of Florida, which was in the original Interior Department plan before being abruptly removed after pressure from the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott: “We would probably not drill within sight of the coast of Florida, most certainly.”

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

4 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.