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Things are looking up for BP (BP), which was recently able to restart its Cherry Point oil refinery in Washington after about 3 months of it being shut down.

This is good news for more than one reason. Firstly it obviously means that production can resume and the refinery will be able to start making a profit for the company again. In addition the company will no longer have to face angry claims from Washington residents regarding the fact that the shutdown apparently caused gas prices in the region to rise to unacceptably high levels. Taking a look at spot gas prices in the area now, it is easy to see that it was the BP shutdown, despite the company's claims to the contrary, that caused the process to spike in the first place. Following the restart of the refinery prices have dropped noticeably. This is because the refinery, although still engaged in the start up process, has already restarted the production of motor fuel. The initial shutdown was caused by a fire that necessitated a number of repairs. The refinery is back up and running and full production will most likely be resumed by the end of the month.

And, of course, the company is still dealing with the backlash from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The company is very close to closing a deal that will resolve most of the civil lawsuits currently leveled against it regarding the spill. The company will have to pay, if this deal is finally agreed, about $7.8 billion. However there is something that may stand in the way of the company's chance to put the past in the past.

Basically there is a clause in the settlement deal that states that if the number of opt-outs exceeds a certain limit, the company has the right to terminate the settlement deal altogether. The phrase "opt-outs" refers to those people who choose to step away from the civil lawsuit and fight BP on their own. This is generally not considered to be a financially viable option. The more people who opt out, the higher chance BP has of walking away from the settlement. However, there is a big mystery surrounding what that upper limit of opt-outs has to be.

However, if the number is indeed reached, it could turn out to be quite costly for BP. The amount of money that it will have to pay on an individual basis to each plaintiff may well exceed the current settlement amount. Most investors in the company just want the issue resolved so that they can make plans for their futures.

One of the company's big competitors, Chesapeake Energy (CHK), has come under fire for a number of reasons of late, most of which are related to its apparent inability to keep control of its management team. It appears that the company is unable to keep the spending habits of its CEO in check. In addition, there are accusations that it is paying it directors a far more generous package than other companies do. Even following cuts in pay and perks, these directors are still making more than other directors of companies in a similar position to what they are. Chesapeake has angered some investors, some of which may be looking for a new oil and gas company to put money in.

Chesapeake is not the only oil company that is struggling at the moment. ConocoPhillips (COP) and Total (TOT) are also experiencing bad luck, but for different reasons. Neither company will be able to operate out of the Immingham Oil Terminal in northeast England any longer following a court decision to allow Associated British Ports Holdings to terminate the tenancy agreements that it had with each company. This will most likely come as quite a big financial shock to the two companies both of which produce huge quantities of oil at that terminal.

We have heard both good news and bad news for competitor Anadarko Petroleum (APC). The good news is that the company recently made a significant discovery in Mozambique. The oil reserves that it has discovered there will make a substantial difference to the company's financial future. On the other side of the coin, it is involved in a potentially expensive lawsuit. This related to the accusations that have been leveled against the company regarding the spinoff of Tronox in 2005 to cover up environmental liabilities. At the moment it is a shaky horse to back at best.

Two major things have put Apache (APA) in the news of late. One is its activities with regards to the Wheatstone project in Australia, and the other is the Beryl field well that is producing record breaking amounts of oil. Both of these events show us that Apache is becoming one of the top players in this industry and that we should be on the lookout for developments in this stock as time passes. As oil and gas companies go, this is probably one of the best choices that you could make right now.

Cabot Oil & Gas (COG) is a competitor that needs to be watched. As the number one performing stock in the S&P 500 for last year, it is a company that is at the top of its game at present. If you are looking for a new oil and gas stock to back, this may well be the one to choose.

Keep an eye on Cabot and Apache as each makes its way up the ranks in the industry. As far as BP is concerned, the news of the refinery back up and running is a delight, as the company can take more steps away from the Gulf spill endeavor. Any steps are appreciated at this point, and if there are many more to come, BP can really put itself back on the map.

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