The following video is part of our "Motley Fool Conversations" series, in which analyst John Reeves and advisor David Meier discuss topics across the investing world.

David provides us with a handy way to evaluate the return potential of big oil companies. Here's his approach:

Dividend yield + dividend growth + share buybacks = total returns.

The share buyback percentage is calculated using the amount spent on buybacks divided by total market cap. In the video, John and David consider how the big oil companies stack up using this equation.

As oil prices climb, investors can find opportunities to ride the wave of surging profits for energy companies. Take a look at the top oil stocks recommended by Motley Fool analysts in a recent special free report: "3 Stocks for $100 Oil." The report won't be available forever, so we invite you to enjoy a free copy today. You can access it by clicking here. Fool on!

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.