Occidental Petroleum Corp. has had a rough ride in recent months as crude oil prices dipped and an oil field fire knocked out one of its production facilities near Bakersfield for nearly a month.

But for all this, Occidental's first quarter earnings report last week showed only a slight dip from last year. Shares of the Westwood-based oil giant closed April 25 at $52.19, the highest level since August.

"I feel more comfortable than I did a year ago about our production levels going forward because we have more projects under consideration now," Occidental chairman, president and chief executive Ray Irani told investors during last week's earnings conference call.

Occidental has made several moves recently in an attempt to focus more intently on core oil locations in the Middle East and the Americas and company executives say more such deals are in the works.

Irani would not disclose any details of the deals now under consideration. But Occidental has been busy repositioning itself just with the deals already announced. On April 23, Occidental announced it had agreed to sell its oil and natural gas holdings in Pakistan to BP Plc. Simultaneously, the two parties agreed that Occidental would buy BP's 2,300-mile pipeline network in the Permian Basin in West Texas, where Occidental already has substantial oil operations.

"We bought the (BP) pipeline because it will give us a lot more flexibility for moving oil out of the region," Occidental chief financial officer Steve Chazen said in the conference call with investors.

In January, Occidental announced it was selling its 50 percent stake in the Vanyoganneft project in Russia, completely exiting the country where Occidental founder Armand Hammer had made his reputation 80 years earlier.

Instead, Occidental is now focusing intently on the Middle East and North Africa. The company has a 25 percent stake in the Dolphin Energy project, which includes a 230-mile-long pipeline now in final construction phases to bring natural gas to market in Dubai. Chazen said he expects natural gas to start flowing through the pipeline this summer.

Occidental is also one of 18 oil firms bidding to develop two major gas fields owned by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., which is expected to make its decision sometime in the next 90 days. "I believe we have a good chance at that project," Irani told investors.

The company is also expanding production in Libya, both offshore and onshore.

Closer to home, Occidental's production at its Elk Hills field near Bakersfield has now returned to normal after a disastrous explosion and fire on Feb. 6 put most of the oil and natural gas field out of commission for nearly a month. The explosion injured four field workers and prompted a state investigation.

The shutdown caused Occidental's overall oil and natural gas production to fall to 587,000 barrels per day during the first quarter, below the company's guidance range of 590,000 to 600,000 barrels per day. That, along with lower crude oil prices, was a major reason for a drop in sales during the first quarter to $4.1 billion from $4.4 billion a year earlier.

As for the earnings, net income was $1.21 billion, down a smidgeon from $1.23 billion in first quarter 2006, while core earnings came in at 98 cents a share, above analysts' consensus estimate of 90 cents.

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