Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil said its third-quarter earnings slipped 7 percent from a year ago as crude oil and especially natural gas production declined. Prices also slipped.
The largest U.S. energy company, which owns Fort Worth-based XTO Energy, earned $9.57 billion, or $2.09 a share, in the quarter. Revenues totaled $115.7 billion, down 8 percent from a year earlier. Both profits and revenues topped Wall Street expectations, however, and Exxon's shares (ticker: XOM) closed up 43 cents to $91.60.
Falling natural gas production -- down 9 percent overall and down 5 percent in the U.S. -- drew questions from analysts on a conference call with David Rosenthal, vice president of investor relations. He said approximately 50 active drilling rigs operated by Exxon in North America are increasingly working in areas holding crude oil and natural gas liquids, an industrywide trend.
Exxon is particularly active in the Permian Basin of West Texas, the Woodford/Ardmore in Oklahoma and North Dakota's Bakken Shale, he said.
"You could expect to see us continuing to pursue those liquids-rich opportunities," he said. Exxon is the largest natural gas producer in the U.S. and the No. 3 producer in the Barnett Shale on the strength of its 2010 acquisition of XTO.
Exxon continues to explore exports of liquefied natural gas from its Golden Pass LNG terminal in Port Arthur, a facility that opened in 2010 to receive LNG shipments from abroad. Rosenthal said the Department of Energy in October authorized exports from the terminal, where the company and majority partner Qatar Petroleum International in August applied to invest as much as $10 billion on chilling equipment needed to turn natural gas into a liquid for transport.
Exxon's production was down 7.5 percent from a year ago, or 2.9 percent after accounting for divestitures and changes in sharing agreements with nations where it produces oil and gas. It earned nearly $6 billion on exploration and production activities, down 29 percent from a year earlier.
Earnings on refining and retailing more than doubled, to $3.2 billion, and earnings on chemicals were down 21 percent to $790 million.
It said it had $9.2 billion in capital spending during the quarter, up 7 percent, and spent $5.1 billion to buy back 58 million shares. It expects to spend another $5 billion on share buybacks in the fourth quarter.
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