I've been through Devon Energy's (NYSE:DVN) earnings report, and I just can't find much to get excited about.

With commodity prices sagging, you'd think that the days of boasting about record production numbers were over. Who cares about cranking out all that extra gas when your price realizations are off 60%, as Devon's were in the quarter? Not me.

It'd be one thing if Devon had masterfully hedged its gas production (which accounted for 65% of the production balance this quarter) like XTO Energy (NYSE:XTO). With companywide gas-price realizations of more than $7, I believe XTO made decent economic returns in the Barnett Shale this quarter. With realizations below the average benchmark price of $3.51, Devon could not have generated satisfactory returns on capital employed.

I appreciate that Devon is gaining drilling efficiencies in the Barnett, even if that means prolonging the downturn in natural gas. But so is everyone else. Devon's just not standing out from the pack.

Look at the firm's improvement in unit costs. That 8% sequential improvement sounds pretty good. Until, of course, you compare that with Anadarko Petroleum's (NYSE:APC) 12% drop, and Chesapeake Energy's (NYSE:CHK) 15% chop. Devon's cost reductions also may not have much room for improvement in the short term, given that the firm has planned some curtailments for the back half of the year.

Of course, that pullback demonstrates that Devon isn't just going full-blast here, like Petrohawk Energy (NYSE:HK) seems intent on doing. The firm understands the economics of drilling better than I ever will. The operation is just far too large and complex to do anything but keep plugging away through the downturn. There's acreage to hold, rig commitments to keep, production declines to fend off, long-term investments to make, employees and creditors to pay, and on and on.

Bottom line: There's a lot to pay for in a drilling-intensive E&P operation, so Devon needs to keep cranking out cash flow, even when the economic returns evaporate at the bottom of the cycle. (Incidentally, that's why I favor small, debt-free E&Ps than can sit and do nothing until the economics make sense.) My point here is not that Devon is a bad operator. It's just not a beauty like Apache (NYSE:APA) or ultra-low cost Ultra Petroleum (NYSE:UPL).

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. Chesapeake Energy is an Inside Value selection. The Fool owns shares of Chesapeake and XTO. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.