Last week, fellow Fool Alyce Lomax singled out BP
Who's at fault here?
Sure, given the typical legal relationship between the operator and the companies it hires in drilling a well, BP will likely pay most of the costs related to the incident. Its management recognizes that.
But we also know that the rig's blowout preventer didn't function properly. And some critics suspect that the cementing work to seal the well was less than stellar. As a result, we could also point fingers at Transocean or Halliburton
The White House is forming a commission to investigate the spill. Two co-chairs, former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and William Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, have thus far been selected. Reilly's appointment seems questionable, given his membership on the board of ConocoPhillips
Speaking of Conoco, the firm, along with Chevron
Since the Deepwater Horizon exploded, oil from its well has worked its way more than 100 miles to the Louisiana shore, and into its sensitive wetlands. The spill might ultimately affect Florida, Cuba, and perhaps even the East Coast.
A string of failed solutions
BP has tried several methods to halt the oil's flow, all unsuccessful. It placed a nearly 100-ton structure atop the well, but ice that formed on the structure in the frigid 5,000-foot depths thwarted that effort. Scientists also inserted a smaller pipe into the well bore in an effort to siphon oil to a barge on the surface. That attempt began with some promise, but the flow rate to the barge soon declined. BP also deployed controversial chemical dispersants to break up the oil.
Next, BP will try a "top kill," intended to plug the well by injecting heavy drilling mud and cement into its bore. At the same time, two rigs are drilling "relief wells," designed to divert the flow of oil so that the well can be plugged, but those efforts likely won't bear fruit until August.
What does BP have in its favor?
Despite its current difficulties with the Macondo Project in the Gulf of Mexico, I haven't given up on BP's overall operations. Once it succeeds in stopping the oil flow, the company's prospects should brighten, and it'll be able to benefit from its worldwide assets, which have grown dramatically in recent years. In 2009, for instance, it increased its production at its Thunder Horse facility in the Gulf of Mexico to 300,000 barrels of oil equivalency per day, making Thunder Horse the largest-producing field in the gulf.
During the first quarter, the company announced that it will acquire 10 exploration blocks in Brazil and a large portfolio of deepwater Gulf of Mexico assets from Devon Energy
Also in 2009, BP began production at its Tangguh LNG project in Indonesia, capable of shipping 7.6 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually. Beyond that, the company's other success included three more ultra-deepwater discoveries in Block 31 off Angola.
As you can imagine, however, the past five weeks have not been kind to shareholders of BP, the world's third-largest publicly held oil company. After closing at $59.49 on April 20, it slid by Tuesday to $42.56. Its market capitalization has declined by about $21 billion, meaning BP now trades at a discount to its peers.
I'd advise Foolish energy investors to keep close tabs on developments in the gulf. Once the spill is plugged -- and assuming that you can treat yourself to a comfortable investment time horizon -- the company should begin to recapture some of its lost market cap.
Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool owns shares of Devon Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a leakproof disclosure policy.