It looks like the Saudis might be serious. The kingdom actually plans to produce less crude oil in February than its newly minted quota specifies. The result could be a movement of crude prices at least somewhat higher than the current $37 a barrel.

As you know, words like "plummet" and "plunge" don't begin to describe crude price action since the summer, despite several production-cutting agreements by OPEC beginning in September. Those agreements -- the latest of which was forged last month -- will ultimately pull about 4.2 million barrels a day from the cartel's total output.

The Saudis, who have said that they believe $75 to be a reasonable price for crude, are responsible for slightly less than 10% of the world's output, given their previous production rate of about 8.0 million barrels a day. For the sake of comparison, ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), the biggest of the publicly held company contingent, produced somewhat below 2.3 million barrels a day in its most recent quarter. Other members of Big Oil -- Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), for instance -- produce considerably less.

Adherence to cuts by cartel members has been difficult during times of lower prices, since several of the countries are thrown into financial deficits at prices well above today's. A perfect example of this is Venezuela and Iran. In order to balance their respective budgets, a recent analysis by UBS indicated that both countries required a price of $90 a barrel in the global market. With world prices falling, many of the members aren't inclined to stick to agreed-upon cuts.

But now, the Saudis apparently plan to come in as much as 300,000 barrels below their daily quota next month, consequently reducing their output to 2002 levels. In the face of that commitment, it's difficult to imagine that the kingdom won't also be on the lookout for cheating by other OPEC members.

What does this mean for Foolish investors? Given the declines that virtually all energy companies have suffered during the past six months, any hike in crude prices resulting from the Saudis' apparent seriousness could benefit most of the sector. The result would be a fresh opportunity for Fools with a taste for energy.

For my money, the pick of the litter remains ExxonMobil, in part for its muscular balance sheet. But I'd also keep close tabs on oilfield services king Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) -- which starts off reporting for the group next Friday. Given the 80-country spread of its operations, the company would clearly benefit from higher-priced crude. I'd also watch offshore drilling leader Transocean (NYSE:RIG), since a boost to oil prices would reinvigorate the deepwater, where it reigns supreme.

Of the companies mentioned, ConocoPhillips and Transocean are five-star-rated by Motley Fool CAPS players. The others bear four stars. Is your CAPS vote included on any of these companies?

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your questions and comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.