You've heard of BP (NYSE: BP), the British representative to Big Oil. Hibernation would be the only excuse for not recognizing that, during the past year, BP has perhaps been the subject of more attention than any trio of companies I can conjure up.

As my Foolish colleague Alyce Lomax recently told you, the media's incessant attention has hardly inured to the company's advantage. As such, and as Alyce described, it's highly unlikely that it'll soon walk away with any sort of Mr. or Miss Congeniality award.

Ready for a major kickoff
As the controversial corporation prepares to take its place Wednesday with ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) as the first of the majors to release first-quarter results, few instances come to mind when an earnings discussion was muted in importance by a host of other social and environmental issues enveloping a company.

The difficulty with the issues -- and the allure of the company as an investment -- is that, while BP may be wiggling out from under some culpability for last year's Macondo well disaster, management seems determined to maintain a growing reputation for safety and environmental ineptitude. It's a trend that began years ago and was only intensified -- many times over -- by the Transocean (NYSE: RIG) Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

You likely know about the company's 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery, which snuffed out 15 lives. Beyond that, you may recall the pipeline leak at its Prudhoe Bay field the next year. Like the Texas City cataclysm, the cause was tied to an overzealous affection for cost cutting. Another leak -- smaller this time -- forced BP to temporarily shut down its Trans Alaska Pipeline System as recently as January.

But from an ongoing legal and environmental perspective, it's impossible to subjugate the company's other events to Macondo. However, I must also point out that expert opinion, if not public sentiment, has lately moved somewhat in BP's direction regarding the cause of the well's blowout, the loss of life, and the leaking oil. At the same time, BP clearly is trying to reinsert itself in the good graces of Gulf Coast residents, along with those of energy investors.

Trying to win favor
Note, for starters, the company's promise to ante up $1 billion for restoration of the affected Gulf coastal area. The pledge was made, wonder of wonders, during the anniversary week of the Macondo tragedy. Who says the company's public relations department has been napping?

So we have at least the beginnings of a culpability shift resulting from the panels and commissions that have been charged with studying the equipment and other aspects of BP's and its contractors' work on the well. In something of a twist, while BP has hardly been exonerated, neither have its contractors been enamored with the results of the various studies.

Big, burly, broken BOP
For instance, a month ago, a group of engineers under the employ of Det Norske Veritas, consultants in risk management based in Norway, said in a 550-page report -- submitted under contract with the U.S. Interior Department -- that the failure of the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon was tied to a design flaw on the massive piece of equipment. While convicting Cameron International (NYSE: CAM), the manufacturer of the BOP, even on the basis of the obviously exhaustive report, would constitute a rush to judgment, the firm's conclusions would seem to provide at least a modicum of legal cover for BP.

Further, just this week, a U.S. Coast Guard investigation hit Transocean. It pointed to lax maintenance, insufficient training, and inadequate safety systems in a report wrapping up its investigation. Included in its conclusion was the claim that the drilling contractor "had serious safety management system failures and a poor safety culture." While the company strongly disagreed with the report, its conclusion took into account problems that reportedly were not uncommon within the company's fleet.

Here, hold this
Nor has Halliburton (NYSE: HAL), which was charged with cementing the well, escaped unscathed in the investigative process. An earlier spill commission claimed that of four tests on the cement intended for use on Macondo, only one passed muster as capable of holding during actual use.

With these mounting indications of shared culpability, BP last week filed suit against Transocean, Halliburton, and Cameron, asking that the companies kick in a measly $40 billion for their roles in the Macondo chain of negligence. You also can also expect BP to intensify its lawyers' efforts to chase down Anadarko (NYSE: APC), a minority partner on the well, which has refused to kick in its share of damages on the basis of its claim that it's been absolved of fault by what it maintains was BP's gross negligence in the April 2010 tragedy.

A healing watchlist candidate?
So now, as the market begins to focus on reports by Big Oil -- industry behemoth ExxonMobil will take the stage Thursday -- BP can take a bit of solace from the mounting pile of analysis likely absolving it from at least a portion of Macondo-related culpability. As such, I'm inclined to intensify my attention to the company's shares, which continue to trade at a less than 7.0 times forward P/E. I'd suggest that Fools make use of our free and customized watchlist in keeping a close eye on BP and its seemingly improving legal circumstances.  

The Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.