Italy's integrated international oil and gas producer Eni (NYSE: E) is ambitiously cruising the world in search of oil and gas. But given the places in which it operates -- along with the strong-arm tactics it has faced from a host of governments -- we can only hope that the company isn't cruisin' for a bruisin'.

Eni told us about preliminary results for its December quarter that were somewhat similar to those of its French neighbor Total (NYSE: TOT), which also rode increased production and higher oil prices to solid numbers. Indeed, Eni's net for the quarter just about doubled to $4.4 billion year over year. But if you adjust for inventory values and one-time items, the company's net increased by 14%, precisely the same growth rate turned in by Total.

Looking at a couple of key metrics in evaluating the operating success of energy companies, Eni managed to increase its oil and natural gas production by 1.1% in the quarter, although its liquids output was down 2.9%. At the same time, the company replaced 90% of its production for the year -- less than the magic 100%, but still respectable.

Eni has been cuffed around by several governments of late. Perhaps the most noteworthy example was in Kazakhstan, where it was the operator for a group of big producers developing the country's huge Kashagan field. When the project went far more slowly -- and with higher expenses -- than had been predicted, the Kazakh government forced Eni to share the operator role with Total, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM), and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) (NYSE: RDS-B), and also demanded for itself a bigger cut in the project.

At the same time, Eni has been a player in Venezuela, where, like five other big companies, it's been stripped of its operating role in the Orinoco basin, and where it's just reached a compensation agreement with PDVSA, the state oil company. It's also recently been forced to renegotiate deals with the governments of Algeria and Libya. And in just the past year, the company has acquired sizable assets in Russia, where BP (NYSE: BP) and Shell have beenhassled.

So let's hope that Eni isn't heading toward becoming the poster child for corporate masochism in the energy group. At the very least, its global operations have become something of a one-company example of why Fools should keep one eye cocked toward this vital sector.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in Eni or in any of the other companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a world-famous disclosure policy.