Earnings season for the energy sector begins this week, with three major oil services companies reporting financial results for the third quarter of 2012. The results and management commentary from these operators will give investors an updated view on the North American drilling cycle, and activity in the international space.

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Earnings Season Kick Off
(NYSE:HAL) will hold its conference call at 9:00 a.m. ET on October 17, while Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) and Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) have scheduled calls for the morning of October 19 at 9:00 a.m. ET and 8:00 a.m. ET, respectively. Analysts are looking for quarterly earnings per share of 68 cents, $1.06 and 84 cents, respectively, for the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2012, according to Yahoo! Finance.

Exploration Potential
Noble Energy
(NYSE:NBL) held a conference call last week and highlighted the company's extensive global exploration portfolio. The company's most promising prospects are in the Levant Basin in the Eastern Mediterranean where Noble Energy is evaluating a Mesozoic era oil formation. Noble Energy also has exploration acreage in the Falkland Islands and is participating in the Scotia Oil Prospect on one of the offshore blocks here. The company's other prospects are in Nevada, West Africa, Nicaragua and the Gulf of Mexico.

SEE: 5 Biggest Risks Faced By Oil And Gas Companies

Development Potential
Noble Energy was not the only exploration and production company to tout the potential of its oil and gas properties. Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) is enamored with the oil and liquids potential of the Bakken and Woodford Shale plays, and plans to use these areas to triple production and reserves by 2017. Infrastructure can barely keep up with the rapid development of onshore shale plays in the United States and one solution is trucking the crude oil to terminals so it can be shipped by barge. Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:MPC) is building a truck-to-barge terminal on the Ohio River to handle production from the Utica Shale. The terminal will have barge loading capacity of 50,000 barrels of oil per day and be operational by the end of 2013.

Marathon Petroleum Corporation has made similar investments before, and recently added 12,000 barrels per day of truck-unloading capacity at the company's refinery in Canton, Ohio. Marathon Petroleum Corporation is also increasing the company's exposure in the downstream area and signed a deal to purchase a refinery owned by BP (NYSE:BP). The company will acquire the 451,000 barrel-per-calendar-day Texas City refinery for a base price of $598 million. The deal also includes the purchase of logistics and marketing assets and crude oil inventories with an estimated value of $1.2 billion.

Total (NYSE:TOT) is bullish on exploration prospects in Indonesia and signed production sharing contracts with the government on two offshore blocks. The contracts give Total a 100% participating interest in the Telen and the Bengkulu I - Mentawai blocks. The company plans to conduct a 3D seismic survey on the Bengkulu-I, and to drill one exploration well on the Telen over the next three years.

The Bottom Line
The energy sector may experience even more price volatility than usual this week as the big three oil service operators launch third quarter of 2012 earnings season. Investors should pick through these financial reports for information on current and expected business trends in the sector.

At the time of writing, Eric Fox did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.

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