For better or for worse, the "midstream" portion of the natural gas business can be affected by an almost amazing array of forces. Gas transmission company Spectra Energy (NYSE:SE), a newly spun-off arm of Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK), found that to be the case in the June quarter when its earnings slid 39% year over year.

In the quarter, Spectra's income dipped to $196 million, or $0.31 a share. That represents a drop on the income line from the $320 million in the June 2006 quarter. Since it was still under the Duke umbrella last year, the company did not report per-share results for the June 2006 period. The year-ago quarter included special items totaling a positive $56 million from discontinued operations, along with a $30 million tax reduction, while the most recent quarter was boosted by $4 million in special items.

Spectra's results in the latest quarter were cut by two scheduled maintenance turnarounds in its Western Canada transmission and processing operation, along with weather-related power outages at its 50%-owned field services unit.

To anyone who has been involved in North America's natural gas gathering, processing, and transmission business, Spectra is an offspring of some of that business's grand old names, including Texas Eastern, Panhandle Eastern, and Trunkline Gas. That collection of companies, which came together in 1989, was merged with Duke Power to form Duke Energy a decade ago. Earlier this year, Houston-based Spectra was divested from Duke, and last month, the company completed its initial public offering of Spectra Energy Partners, LP (NYSE:SEP).

Spectra operates in the same general sector of the natural gas business as El Paso (NYSE:EP) and Southern Union (NYSE:SUG). And while its business can be buffeted by the aforementioned outside forces, including commodity price roller coasters, the company nevertheless weighs in with stellar assets and a 3.6% forward dividend rate. I'm therefore of a mind that it continues to deserve attention from my Foolish friends, particularly those with income on their minds.

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Duke Energy and its Spectra Energy offspring are both Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Receive a stream of information on those and other companies with a subscription to the newsletter.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy