Spectra Energy (NYSE: SE) will release its quarterly report on Tuesday, and investors have sent the company's stock to all-time highs. But the big question facing would-be shareholders is whether Spectra Energy earnings will reflect the long-term growth potential in the energy transmission industry.

Spectra has a sizable network of natural-gas pipeline and storage facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada, and it has used that network to tap into opportunities from rising levels of gas production. Having endured extremely low nat-gas prices that led many exploration and production companies to cut back on their nat-gas activity, Spectra now hopes that a rebound in natural gas will produce the opposite effect and boost its own profits. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with Spectra Energy over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report.

Stats on Spectra Energy

Analyst EPS Estimate

$0.32

Change From Year-Ago EPS

(3%)

Revenue Estimate

$1.22 billion

Change From Year-Ago Revenue

10.1%

Earnings Beats in Past Four Quarters

2

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Will Spectra Energy earnings power up this quarter?
In recent months, analysts have gotten a bit more optimistic about the long-term prospects for Spectra Energy earnings, keeping June-quarter estimates steady but raising full-year 2013 projections by a penny per share and 2014 estimates by $0.03 per share. The stock has responded favorably, rising more than 16% since the end of April.

Lately, all the rage among midstream companies has involved creating master limited partnerships to hold assets in a tax-favored way that encourages greater income distributions for investors. Spectra bolstered its own case on that score back in May, moving a 50% interest in its Express-Platte pipeline system into its Spectra Energy Partners (NYSE: SEP) MLP. The pipeline connects western Canadian crude oil to refiners in the U.S. Rocky Mountain region and the Midwest, which has been an increasing important network in light of production from Alberta's oil sands and other promising areas. Spectra followed up that announcement in June with plans to move all of its transmission and storage assets to Spectra Energy Partners, and investors cheered the expected rise in distributions from their shares.

But Spectra has also made some substantive strategic moves as well. Less than a week ago, Spectra said that it would partner with NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE) to help build a major natural gas pipeline to bring more gas to Florida. The move will mark the state's third big pipeline, but with current networks running near capacity, the venture should help NextEra promote growth in Florida and take advantage of high demand from gas-fired electricity plants in the state.

Another promising area for Spectra is the Utica Shale. With its being part of a joint proposal for a pipeline from the Ohio play to Detroit and then on to Canada, Spectra and partners Enbridge (NYSE: ENB) and DTE Energy could end up reaping greater rewards as producers ramp up natural-gas volumes in the rapidly growing region.

In the Spectra earnings report, watch to see what long-term effect the company believes its asset transfers to Spectra Energy Partners will have on distributions to shareholders. With a 3.3% yield already for Spectra and distributions of 4.5% for the MLP, Spectra investors could be in a much happier mood if the company foresees much greater payouts ahead.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Spectra Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.