Exxon Catches a Supreme Break

It's taken almost two decades, but ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) has wriggled out from under most of the $2.5 billion in punitive damages assessed against it after the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

In a Supreme Court ruling Wednesday, one of the longest-running sagas in U.S. jurisprudence finally ended when the "Supremes" chopped $2 billion from a total $2.5 billion judgement previously awarded to plaintiffs by lower courts. Now Exxon, whose shareholders recently voted down motions -- some from descendents of its founder, John D. Rockefeller -- to direct the company more toward alternative energy, has also trimmed this protracted legal battle from its concerns.

All too frequently as of late, Exxon has discovered that it's not easy being the top dog in Big Oil. Last year, the company and other integrated operators such as Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) , and France's Total (NYSE: TOT  ) were pushed around by Hugo Chavez's nationalization scheme in Venezuela. Unlike most of the others, Exxon is hanging tough in its battle with the Castro wannabe, pursuing a compensation case in arbitration.

The company also has faced challenges in its operations on Russia's Sakhalin Island. That nation's government has become progressively harder for Western companies to get along with. But to its credit, Exxon has thus far prevailed in a tough Russian atmosphere that has battered rivals such as Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) (NYSE: RDS-B  ) and BP (NYSE: BP  ) . 

All this tells me that Fools would be well advised to consider ExxonMobil as a foundation for the increasingly important energy portion of their investment portfolios. In a world where political, geopolitical, and geological challenges are mounting almost by the day, bigger is frequently better.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a supremely designed disclosure policy.


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