If you are an integrated oil and gas company today -- what with energy commodities' volatile behavior -- it's good to follow ExxonMobil's (NYSE:XOM) earnings release. That way, you don't look so forlorn when you show up with earnings that, when compared to last year's, look like they've been pushed over a cliff.

Chevron (NYSE:CVX), the second-largest U.S.-based integrated producer, didn't have the best Friday. The company saw its earnings slide to $1.75 billion -- $0.87 a share -- compared to $5.98 billion, or $2.90 per share, a year ago. Analysts following the company had expected EPS of $0.95. That said, in my own days as an analyst, I found accurately predicting earnings in a period of rapid change to be just about impossible.

Chevron's upstream earnings fell by nearly 80%, from $7.25 billion a year ago to $1.52 billion in the June quarter. Because of new production from places such as the Tahiti field in the Gulf of Mexico, the Frade field off Brazil, and an offshore project in Angola, Chevron raised its production for the quarter by 5%. (Even Exxon couldn't match that accomplishment.)

And while the company's exploration and production segment was hit by the oil and gas slide, the downstream unit (refining, marketing, and transportation) and chemicals both turned in stronger quarters than their year-ago counterparts. Officially, downstream climbed from a loss of $734 million to a gain of $161 million, despite a difficult refining environment. Meanwhile, chemicals more than doubled in earnings to $108 million, up from last year's $41 million.

In addition to ExxonMobil, Chevron joined BP (NYSE:BP), Shell (NYSE:RDS-A), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), and France's Total (NYSE:TOT), all of which saw their earnings decline by more than half. At the same time, while Chevron raised its dividend to $0.68 a share for the next quarter, Italy's Eni (NYSE:E) became the first of the big oil companies to cut its dividend, following a 60% decline in earnings.

As Shell CEO Peter Voser commented last week, "We simply don't know when the global economy will recover." It seems we're all in the same boat. Therefore, it might be wise to give the energy companies some distance for the time being.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. Total SA is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.