Marathon Oil

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Marathon took a big step to help it benefit from the high oil prices — it finally split into two independent companies. Oil exploration and production assets are now in Marathon Oil Corp., while its downstream assets, such as petroleum products, went to Marathon Petroleum Corp. Marathon had considered the strategy earlier but couldn’t implement it during the financial crisis.Wall Street likes the move: Immediately following the announcement, Marathon shares spiked, and prices have continued to climb since. —S.D.

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Valero Energy

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Thanks to higher oil prices and favorable spreads in the crude market, the nation’s largest oil refiner has been on the move. In March, Valero agreed to buy Chevron’s Welsh refining operations for $730 million, a deal that will increase its oil output 220,000 barrels a day.The company also is stepping up production at a number of its U.S. refineries, a big reason why analysts anticipate double-digit earnings growth in the years ahead. After reporting a big loss in 2009, in 2010 the company swung to a profit. Investors approved: Valero stock is up almost 41% in the past year. —P.N.

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ConocoPhillips

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Conoco stock has been on a tear this past year, rising more than 40%, although it’s still off sharply from its 2008 high. What’s cheering investors? CEO James Mulva’s plan to shed assets — more than $15 billion worth in the past 18 months — and reduce long-term debt.The company also plans to drill 150 new oil wells this year in its Eagle Ford project in southern Texas and anticipates hitting peak production of some 65,000 barrels per day in 2013. Mulva’s expanding shale operations, too, having added about 90,000 acres in North America last year. —P.N.

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Chevron

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Chevron’s got some headaches to deal with: In Nigeria it faces ongoing hostilities from local thugs, and in Ecuador, it’s fighting claims that its Texaco unit engaged in toxic-waste dumping.So why not engage in a little retail therapy? In February, Chevron wrapped up its $3.2 billion acquisition of Pennsylvania’s Atlas Energy, adding to its growing portfolio of natural gas operations. It also bought 200,000 acres of the Duvernay shale gas formation in Alberta, Canada. Expect the buying to continue: Chevron says it will boost capital spending 20% this year to $26 billion. —P.N.

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