While Big Oil has been hogging the limelight after beating expectations in fiscal-first-quarter earnings reports, there has been no less a positive impact on the earnings of the lower tier of oil companies due to higher crude oil prices this year. One in particular has caught my eye.

The finances
Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY) announced first-quarter earnings of $1.5 billion, or $1.90 per share, a 46% growth from its first quarter of 2010. Not surprisingly, the fourth-largest oil company in the U.S. rode crude prices to beat market earnings estimates of $1.80 per share. During the quarter, the company scaled up operations significantly and its future plans should only augur well for Foolish investors.

During the first quarter, oil and gas revenues rose by 25% over the year-ago quarter. Volume-wise, year-over-year sales grew to 728,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (Boe/d) from 685,000 Boe/d, while production was ramped up to 730,000 from 701,000 Boe/d. Core business has grown impressively and this is a very good sign.

New niche
While Occidental is not known as a chemical company, the chemical segment of the business contributed a very substantial 20% to the revenues. In fact, earnings from this unit shot up by a fantastic 630%, to $219 million, when compared to the first quarter of 2010.

Actually, this development is not limited to this company. As Fool analyst David Lee Smith pointed out, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) earned $1.5 billion in this very segment this quarter -- a 21% jump from last year. Royal Dutch Shell's (NYSE: RDS-A) (NYSE: RDS-B) chemical products year-over-year sales increased by 5% this quarter. This is an effective way to generate additional cash flow and offset capital expenditure costs, as well as utilize lower-grade petroleum. In short, chemical units of these companies do not serve as growth segments, but as strategic units that contribute to the cash reserves and liquidity of the company.

Foolish takeaway
With Chief Operating Officer Stephen Chazen slated to take over as CEO next month, Occidental will be in safe hands following the departure of the incumbent CEO, Ray Irani. To aggressively fund its expanding operations, the company has increased capital expenditures to $6.8 billion -- a whopping 62% rise from last year. Foolish investors should find a long-term winner in this stock.