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National Fuel got off to a hot start this winter.

With natural gas commodity prices rising, National Fuel boosted its oil and natural gas production sharply. Its pipeline business strengthened as drillers pumped more gas through new pipelines that National Fuel brought on line during the past year. And the stubbornly cold winter weather this year bolstered its utility business.

As a result, National Fuel’s second-quarter profits jumped by 27 percent, topping analyst forecasts, and prompting the company to hike its earnings forecast for the current fiscal year by 5 percent.

“Results across our system during the second quarter were outstanding,” said Ronald J. Tanski, National Fuel’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

Earnings grew by more than 20 percent in each of National Fuel’s operating segments, from oil and natural gas production, to pipelines and its utility business.

That caused the company’s profits to jump to $85.7 million, or $1.02 per share, from $67.4 million, or 81 cents per share, a year ago. Analysts had expected the company to earn 98 cents per share.

With natural gas commodity prices up 20 percent this year, the company said it expects its earnings to be stronger than it initially predicted. National Fuel now expects its profits to rise to between $2.95 and $3.10 per share, up from its previous forecast of $2.75 to $3 per share.

Earnings from National Fuel’s fast-growing oil and gas drilling business jumped by 25 percent, fueled by a 57 percent spike in production resulting from strong results from new wells the company has drilled in Lycoming County, Pa., in the heart of the state’s Marcellus Shale.

Although National Fuel scaled back its drilling plans over the past year because of the steep drop in commodity prices last year, the company said it expects its oil and gas production during the fiscal year that ends in September to grow even faster than it had originally forecast. National Fuel now expects its production to range between the equivalent of 110 billion and 118 billion cubic feet of natural gas, up from its original forecast of 102 billion to 112 billion – an increase of almost 7 percent.

The company’s utility business also did well, with earnings jumping by 22 percent, bolstered by temperatures that were 28 percent colder than last year in its Pennsylvania service territory, which does not have a rate mechanism to smooth out customer costs due to fluctuations in weather conditions, as New York does.

National Fuel’s pipeline and storage business increased its earnings by 31 percent as customers shipped more natural gas through new and extended pipelines it has built in response to the surge in drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

That success has been reflected in the company’s stock price. It was up $1, or 1.6 percent, to $63.18 in early trading today, near the top of its 52-week range of $41.57 - $63.24.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com