If you're partial to Big Oil, let this serve as a strong suggestion that you pay close attention to an ever-improving BP (NYSE: BP). In the three years since Tony Hayward assumed the company's CEO role, BP has dug itself out from under a host of difficulties and is fast becoming a star of the group.

Before Hayward assumed the helm in 2007, BP had faced a lethal Texas refinery explosion, a leaky Alaskan oil pipeline, and problems getting its giant Thunder Horse production platform in the Gulf of Mexico up and running.

But as a takeaway from its strategy presentation on Tuesday -- along with an upward creep of crude prices -- it's difficult to make a case for anything but better times ahead for BP. After saving $4 billion in costs last year, Hayward is aiming for a $3 billion improvement in the company's pre-tax profits in the next couple of years. About a third of that hike is expected from the upstream side, while BP believes it can garner about $2 billion in efficiency improvements in its downstream refining operations. In order to help facilitate the gains, the British company is moving its oil and gas management efforts to Houston.

The move coincides with BP's expansion of its shale-gas operations in the U.S. The newest deal reportedly involves a joint venture in southeastern Texas with privately held Lewis Energy. As the 50/50 tie-up appears to be structured, BP would take a half interest of about 80,000 acres located in the Eagle Ford Shale play.

This will be yet another example of a major company becoming more involved in shale gas. BP first leaped into this emerging area when it bought stakes in the Fayetteville and Woodford shale plays from Chesapeake (NYSE: CHK) in 2008. And you're aware of ExxonMobil's (NYSE: XOM) pending acquisition of Fort Worth-based gas producer XTO (NYSE: XTO).

But not all the shale activity is occurring in the U.S. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) will soon be well-testing in Poland, where its neighbors are Marathon (NYSE: MRO) and Exxon (which has also set up shop in Germany and Hungary), while Total (NYSE: TOT) has been amassing acreage in France.

In the meantime, however, it's difficult to identify a company that has come on faster of late than BP. Couple that with its impressive 6% dividend yield and my strong feeling is that Fools with even a modicum of interest in energy would be wise to consider sprinkling a few shares of the company into their portfolios.

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Chesapeake Energy is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Total SA is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. The Fool owns shares of Chesapeake Energy and XTO Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named in this article. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool's disclosure policy is harder to crack than shale rock.