We all have our private lives, and I'm wary of those who claim that theirs are pristine. So let's dispense up front with the smarminess in the BP (NYSE:BP) story.

 Lord John Browne, the company's longtime and generally quite successful CEO, has admitted to an unfortunate personal relationship, about which he earlier had lied to his own lawyers and to a court. On Tuesday, he abruptly stepped down from the company's helm, before the expected July date, which was itself 18 months in advance of the original target.

Now, I'm sure that further information will be plentiful, in the tabloids and even in the general circulation daily newspapers. I'm more interested in whether BP may or may not constitute an attractive investment opportunity for my Foolish friends. So first, the warts: It's clear that under Lord Browne, and following the acquisitions of such major U.S. oil companies as Amoco and ARCO, spending in certain areas for safety and maintenance was inappropriately and unreasonably curtailed.

The results included a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at the former Amoco refinery at Texas City, Texas, along with a pair of oil spills at the Alaska oil pipeline system that the company inherited from Atlantic Richfield. The pipelines apparently had become excessively corroded, perhaps as a result of the aforementioned cost reductions. Indeed, it appears that BP chopped its maintenance spending by more than 40% in the 1990s.

But BP is a major energy company -- second in size in Europe behind only Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A, RDS-B) -- with a new CEO in Tony Hayward, its former head of exploration and production. And because of its recent past, its board of directors likely will be highly attentive going forward.

The company has a market value of more than $218 billion, a replacement cost profit in 2006 of $22.3 billion, nearly 100,000 employees worldwide, and, owning to its resources, exploration and production operations across the world. Its forward P/E is less than 12 times, based on expected 2007 earnings, and is about 10.8 times the expectations for 2008. It therefore trades at a meaningful discount to, for instance, ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM). It also starts investors off with an approximately 3.6% forward dividend, versus half that level at Exxon, which most Fools know I feel is itself attractive.

So, while I suggest that Fools remain fully cognizant that nobody has rung a bell to declare that BP's problems are all in the past, I nevertheless would urge you to keep this giant oil company prominently displayed on your watch lists.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.