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Tickers in this Article: APC, BHP, BP, CAM, POT, RIG
It has been 4.5 months since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and creating the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The pain felt by shareholders of BP (NYSE:BP), the rig's operator and now Europe's second-largest oil company by market value, has been well documented. On the day the rig exploded, BP's U.S.-listed shares were trading over $60. They would eventually fall to around $27 and have since "rebounded" to just over $37.

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What about the other players in this tragic fiasco, namely Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC), Cameron International (NYSE:CAM) and Transocean (NYSE:RIG)? Each of these companies have been vilified in the court of public opinion since the spill and each has endured painful and precipitous share price declines.

Since the spill, Cameron is down 15%, Anadarko has shed 30% and Transocean, the world's largest provider of offshore drilling services, has tumbled 40%. Let's take a look at this trio to see whose post-spill outlook is the brightest.

Safety First, Will Higher Profits Follow?
Cameron International may have been a company that many investors had not heard of prior to the spill, but the Texas-based maker of rig safety products found itself at the epicenter of the ensuing controversy because it was the maker of the blowout preventer, which failed to stop the flow of natural gas into the rig, leading to the explosion. In a curious move, Cameron tried to convince a U.S. district court judge that removal of the blowout preventer should be delayed, but was denied that request.

Cameron's second-quarter profit plunged to 52 cents a share from 62 cents a share a year earlier due to the company's exposure to the Gulf mess, but on the bright side, Cameron did raise its full-year forecast on hopes that rig operators will purchase more Cameron products as they are required to update safety equipment following the spill.

The company had repurchased 3.2 million shares prior to the spill, but stopped purchases due to potential spill liabilities. However, with analysts saying demand for Cameron's products is bound to pick-up, the shares could be a nice buy at current levels for investors with a medium- to long-term time horizon.

Transocean's Mixed News
As the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean has been firmly at the center of plenty of bad press and negative investor sentiment following the spill. The ensuing moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf has also been a problem for Transocean, as firms exploring for oil and natural gas, including Anadarko, have tried to get out of contracts with Transocean.

Companies that lease rigs from Transocean can pay up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars per day. So, simply put, Transocean performs better in environments that are more favorable to offshore drilling than what we are currently seeing. (Learn more about in A Primer On Offshore Drilling.)

More bad news: Transocean was planning a dividend of 82 cents a share, but a Swiss court told the company to scuttle those plans late last month. All is not lost though when it comes to Transocean, especially if you're willing to bet on a takeover. In early September, Norwegian billionaire John Fredriksen said that his company, Seadrill Ltd., might be interested in acquiring Transocean. Still, it must be noted that Transocean is 65% bigger than Seadrill, making one wonder how Fredriksen would pull off such a deal.

Acquiring Anadarko?
Anadarko Petroleum, which owned a 25% non-operating interest in the Macondo well project, has been hammered following the spill despite the fact that the company had no involvement with the day-to-day operations of the project. The company is one of the largest U.S. independent oil and gas producers and has exposure to a broad swath of compelling regions including the Alaska, Africa and the Gulf of Mexico.

Anadarko's reputation as one of the elite oil and gas exploration firms may have been one reason why billionaire investor Carl Icahn bought 2 million shares of the company in the second quarter, and it may the reason why rumors are flying around that BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP), the world's largest mining company, is reportedly interested in acquiring Anadarko. This comes as BHP made a hostile bid for Potash Corp. (NYSE:POT) last month.

It would be a stretch to imagine BHP acquiring both companies and our bet is on Potash as the preferred target, so be careful when buying Anadarko shares in the hopes of an acquisition.

Bottom Line: Make the Safe Bet
With potential financial liabilities still lingering for all three of the stocks mentioned here, there is some element of risk with each of these names. The other element to consider as it pertains to Anadarko and Transocean is that those stocks are intimately tied to the price of oil, making them tough bets in an environment where oil appears locked in a tight trading range. On the thesis of rig operators being forced to update safety equipment and protocols and assuming the aforementioned acquisitions don't materialize, Cameron looks like the safest bet of this trio, at least in the near-term. (For related reading, take a look at Oil And Gas Industry Primer.)

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