Halliburton Co., the world’s largest provider of hydraulic fracturing services, said fourth-quarter profit rose as customers boosted spending on the technique for capturing oil in the U.S.

Net income rose to $906 million, or 98 cents a share, from $605 million, or 66 cents, a year earlier, Houston-based Halliburton said in a statement today on Business Wire. The company was expected to earn 99 cents a share, the average of 15 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Halliburton helps companies drill for oil and natural gas, including using fracking, which blasts water mixed with sand and chemicals underground to free trapped hydrocarbons from shale formations. Oil and gas producers boosted spending last year on fracking services 63 percent to $31 billion, according to Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Spears & Associates Inc.

“There was very limited weather impact” in the U.S. and Canada, Alan Laws, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets in Denver, who rates the shares a buy and owns none, said in a telephone interview before the earnings were released. “It looks like they may have had extraordinary conditions that allowed for more work to get done.”

Rising crude prices are pushing oil companies to boost exploration, especially in the U.S. onshore market. Oil prices climbed 10 percent to average $94.06 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in the fourth quarter, up from $85.24 a year ago.

Widening Lead
The average number of active U.S. oil and gas rigs rose 19 percent in the final three months of 2011, to 2,010 from 1,688 a year earlier, according to Baker Hughes Inc.

The company widened its lead last year as the largest fracking service company by boosting the amount of its pumping equipment 37 percent to 2.6 million horsepower in North America, according to Spears.

The earnings statement was released before the start of regular trading on U.S. markets. Halliburton fell 0.1 percent, to $36.20 Jan. 20 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares, which have 33 buy and three hold ratings from analysts, rose 13 percent during the quarter.

Source: Bloomberg