Although it's been two years since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP (NYSE:BP) may still have a lot to account for in the disaster.
The biggest worry, at the moment, is that no one actually knows what effects the oil spill will have on future generations. One thing we do know is that there are reports of fish in the spill area being sick. Fish have been found in the Gulf of Mexico "that bear hallmarks of diseases tied to petroleum and other pollutants". The illnesses do not pose a direct threat to human beings when handled. However, these illnesses could be devastating for prized fish populations. In turn, this means that those who make a living catch these fish species may be due for significant losses, of which they can feasibly take BP to court for.
At this point, I will note that it is far from clear whether or not the fish are sick as a result of the oil spill. The number of affected fish is small and there is no way to compare these fish to unaffected fish in the region, as The Gulf of Mexico experiences the effects of many pollutants every day. It is simply too early to say whether or not the BP oil spill is the definitive reason for the outbreak of fish illnesses. The direct cause of the pollution is yet to be officially determined and, although studies are ongoing, it could be years before the final report on the matter is issued.
It does seem that BP's part in the situation will be resolved soon, however. Very recently, BP and attorneys on the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee reached a settlement. BP will have to pay about $8 billion in damages due to the events that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, but there is no cap on just how much money will be paid in the end. This is the biggest class-action lawsuit that we have seen to date, and comes as a relief to area workers that were affected, and to BP itself as it tries to move on from the disaster.
Though, BP is not out of the woods yet. I expect that there will be several other parties interested in getting what is owed to them from BP, including the U.S. government, Gulf-area states and drilling partners Transocean (NYSE:RIG) and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL). Needless to say, this will have huge financial implications for BP stock.
One thing that is going well, however, is the cleanup operation. There is a big difference between how the Gulf of Mexico looks now and how it looked shortly after the spill occurred. BP has certainly not skimped in terms of its efforts to get the gulf cleaned up as efficiently as possible. When the spill initially took place, there were several dire predictions that came from science experts, mainstream media and populist opinion. No actual outcome has been as tragic as many predictions, and so BP has managed to keep a relatively tempered reputation.
In other news, BP is also dealing with a Texas City, Texas HCU (hydrocracking unit) repair, after a storm caused the unit to be shut down. BP reported the situation to the appropriate pollution regulatory bodies in the area. At present, BP is focused on removing the feedstock from the unit so that repairs can begin. The company expects the repairs to be completed within a few days and, in the long run, this should have no significant impact on BP stocks.
Another oil company in the spotlight for environmental reasons is Chevron (NYSE:CVX). Chevron's refinery in Richmond was recently the site of an "Occupy Earth" protest. The main reasons for the protest are 1) that Chevron has polluted the air in the Richmond area, and 2) that the company has been greedy in terms of tax it has thus far been asked to pay in that area. The protest is one in a long line of environmental activists striking out against large oil companies but it's nice to see attention focused away from BP. The company saw its fair share of attention following the Gulf spill, and has continued to see protests. This, seemingly, may be something every oil giant will have to deal with.
Other oil companies seem to have been experiencing slightly better luck than BP and Chevron, of late. Total (NYSE:TOT) recently announced the beginning of production from a gas and condensate field in the Gulf of Thailand. This will significantly boost the company's production capacity in Thailand. Total expects the boost in area production to be in the region of 50%. This is an important milestone in Total's growth strategy, and in seems to suggest the company is doing well. BP may soon have another large competitor in the international arena.
Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) recently announced that its Scotford refinery in Alberta will soon be restarted. Although necessary flaring will have to accompany the main work, this is a great step forward for the company as the refinery can process about 98,000 barrels a day. With the refinery back up and running, Shell will be able to increase its overall production by quite a large margin.
Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) is nearing the completion of its retail conversion. This refers to the company's aim to "convert its company-owned convenience stores to a branded wholesale business". At present, the majority of Exxon Mobil's retail sites in New Jersey have been successfully sold. The company recently announced its final move in the strategy to turn its retail stores in wholesale businesses. This move involves divesting 236 company-owned gas stations and convenience stores in New Jersey.
Now that some closure from the Gulf spill is near, BP will have a chance to further re-brand its image. With its competitors always on the move, BP will look to settle the spill's legal endeavors as smoothly as possible and get back to profits. The road will be a difficult one, though it certainly has some hopeful voices behind its growth.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.