Apparently it takes more than 66% and 333% increases in productivity at the Bakken Shale and Marcellus Shale, respectively, to help WPX Energy (NYSE:WPX) beat estimates. Despite tremendous gains in two of the largest plays in the United States, WPX still witnessed overall volumes decline by 2%, which helped pull third-quarter revenue down by 24%.

Combine these volume shortfalls with continued suppression of natural gas and natural gas liquids prices and you are left with an adjusted net loss of $47 million versus a net income of $14 million for the same period last year. Comparing these results with those of Ultra Petroleum (OTC:UPL) leaves investors with divergent paths to choose from in the natural gas and oil production sector.

To help decipher the differences, investors would be wise to pay attention to releases from Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN) and Denbury Resources (NYSE:DNR) in the next week. These releases could point us in the direction that the overall industry is headed in both the near and long term.

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.