Europe's biggest oil company BP has said its first quarter net profit jumped 137% from a year earlier to just over $6 billion, helped by rising oil prices.

Adjusted net profit - which strips out unrealised gains related to rises in the value of stockpiles - was up 135% to $5.6 billion while production in the three-month period was little changed at just over four million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Today's results compare with the low point of the recession in the first quarter of 2009, when crude prices averaged just over $41 a barrel. A year later, this figure stands at an average $76.

BP's performance was much higher than forecasts after profits in exploration and production nearly doubled to $8.3 billion.

In a recent strategy update, BP said it would begin production on 42 major projects worldwide over the next five years as existing fields decline, and boost profits by taking more costs out of the business.

In refining and marketing, where margins have been squeezed due to over-capacity, first quarter profits fell 33% to $729 i, although the figure was higher than the previous three-month period.

Blast has overshadowed results

BP's recent performance has been overshadowed by last week's explosion at the BP-operated rig, Deepwater Horizon, in the Gulf of Mexico. 11 of the 126 workers on board at the time are missing and presumed dead, while oil is leaking from the sunken rig and spreading towards the US coast.

Last night, the oil slick covered an area 48 miles long by 39 miles wide. BP has mobilised two rigs to drill a relief well if needed, which could help redirect the oil, but the work could take weeks to complete.