NEW ORLEANS -- It's hard to tell that just a year ago BP was reeling from financial havoc and an American public out for blood.

The oil giant at the center of one of the world's biggest environmental crises is making strong profits again, its stock has largely rebounded, and it is paying dividends to shareholders once more. It also is pursuing new ventures from the Arctic to India. It is even angling to explore again in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it holds more leases than any competitor.

"BP has a critical role to play in meeting the world's ever-growing need for energy," BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said at the company's annual meeting in London last week.

While some of this angers Gulf Coast residents, it is a testament to some deft handling of the crisis by the company, which after some major gaffes early on conducted a housecleaning in its executive ranks, adopted a careful communications strategy and assigned an outsider to handle victims' compensation claims.

The company's decision to open its checkbook and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into Gulf communities, help out-of-work rig hands and support Gulf research also contributed to the turnaround.

Yet BP is not out of the woods.

BP employees could be found criminally negligent for the 206 million gallons of oil the U.S. government says gushed from the company's blown-out well and for the 11 men who died when the Deepwater Horizon rig it was leasing exploded. Hundreds of lawsuits and civil and criminal fines could add billions of dollars to its already staggering liabilities. And the findings of several investigations still under way could further damage its reputation.

BP has estimated that the spill will cost the company at least $40.9 billion but is hoping to force some of its partners on the doomed rig to assume some of those costs.

There also is lasting damage in the Gulf, including empty hotels, out-of-work oystermen and fears of a badly disrupted underwater ecosystem. And some of those worst hit by the spill scoff at BP's oft-repeated promises to make people whole again.

"I don't know of one person who has come to me and said, 'I've been made whole. I feel good.' Everything is completely negative from everybody," fishing guide Ron Price said.

When BP finally managed to cap its runaway well in July and permanently sealed it in September, the bankruptcy talk was reduced to a whisper and the 24-hour-a-day beating the company was taking on TV and newspaper front pages eased up.

By the fall, there was talk that the crisis wasn't as bad as feared and that the Gulf might recover sooner than expected. Then soaring oil prices came to the company's rescue, boosting its bottom line.