In a wild and wacky 2008 for the energy industry, there were a couple of constants from recent years.

The first one you likely already know about: ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) chalked up net income of $45.2 billion, setting yet another record for any publicly owned company anywhere. But looking at a metric that's even more important in judging the strength of an exploration and production company, during 2008 it found new reserves totaling 103% of what it produced. In fact, without asset sales during the year, the growth rate would have come in at 110%. That marks the 15th consecutive year of reserve growth for the company.

For the sake of perspective, in 2007, Exxon managed to replace 132% of its production, before taking into account Hugo Chavez's confiscation of a meaningful amount of the company's Venezuelan assets. With that Chavez caper added in, however, the 2007 replacement ratio would have been 101%. Still, despite 2008's crude-price roller coaster and Uncle Hugo's confiscation of assets in the previous year, ExxonMobil has vowed not to cut back on its development spending in 2009.

Reserve replacement numbers among the world's bigger oil companies are beginning to filter in. In addition to Exxon's results, it appears that Chevron (NYSE:CVX), the second-largest of the U.S.-based integrated companies, added about 146% of its oil equivalent production.

The third-largest company, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), replaced only about 25% to 30% of its production, when new Securities and Exchange Commission rules are applied to the count. And California-based Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) added 253 million barrels of oil equivalent before purchases and price adjustments in the year, versus production of 221 million BOE.

With crude prices having fallen from $147 a barrel in July to around $35 now, ExxonMobil's shares have slid by a little more than 10% in the past year. That compares favorably to a drop of almost 30% for BP (NYSE:BP), for instance.

I'm one who believes that while Fools might decrease their representation in the energy sector somewhat, completely abandoning the group makes little sense. On that basis, I continue to find ExxonMobil's relatively steady share-price performance, its solid management, and its robust balance sheet more compelling than those of any of its Big Oil peers.

I'm going to add another thumbs-up to ExxonMobil's Motley Fool CAPS ranking, which is now four stars. Care to join me?

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