London — BP’s profit nearly tripled in the first quarter of 2017 from a year earlier, buoyed by rising oil prices and production that hit a five-year high, while debt piled up to pay for acquisitions and costs for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill. The British oil and gas company joined major rivals, including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total, in posting stronger-than-expected quarterly earnings, mostly thanks to higher oil and gas prices. Oil prices rose by 50% in the past year to about $54 a barrel in the first quarter. BP expects prices to average between $50 and $55 a barrel in 2017, heading to the higher end of the range if oil cartel Opec and major producing countries extend production cuts into the second half of the year, chief financial officer Brian Gilvary told Reuters. The results could assuage some concerns among investors, who were jolted in February when BP raised the oil price at which it could balance its books this year to $60 a barrel after a string of investments that ...

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