The first-half results PetroChina (NYSE:PTR) released this week reflect the issues facing nearly every huge oil company these days. But the market's high growth expectations for the Asian oil giant make its short-term struggle to pump out more profits all the more acute.

Oil production was essentially flat year over year. Natural gas did what it could to prop up overall production growth, which came in a little shy of 4%. This isn't a thrilling figure by any means, but it still beats the growth at ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), BP (NYSE:BP), or Total SA (NYSE:TOT). I have to give PetroChina credit for not gussying up its numbers by adjusting for entitlement changes, divestment effects, or OPEC quotas. There's one production number, and it is what it is.

Like rival energy firms, PetroChina is suffering from serious cost pressures. Per-barrel production costs -- a.k.a. lifting costs -- rose 20% to $7.10. That's not a bad figure in absolute terms, but so great a rise in costs without an offsetting boost in output or price realizations makes for some ugly operating-earnings comparisons. Sure enough, segment earnings dropped 23%; only the strong performance of PetroChina's other businesses saved the company's bottom line from a real beating.

I'd love to see PetroChina's reports include a return on average capital employed (ROACE) figure -- a variant of the Foolish ROIC metric. Firms like Total and Nabors Industries (NYSE:NBR) include this non-GAAP metric in their reports, and it's wonderfully useful in gauging the value created by a company's investments in its own business. X dollars go in, and Y dollars come out -- pretty sweet stuff.

PetroChina has an immense capital spending program in place, exceeding that of Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) (NYSE:RDS-B) or any of the supermajors mentioned above. First-half capex clocked in at RMB 51 billion, or $6.74 billion, and the full-year target is RMB 185.7 billion, or $24.5 billion. A ROACE figure would help Main Streeters like you and me track the impact of this huge spending program in the critical years ahead.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. Total SA is an Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool has an extraordinary disclosure policy.