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 (NASDAQ: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.

Joel South has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Taylor Muckerman has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Denbury Resources, Ultra Petroleum, and ExxonMobil and has the following options: short JAN 2014 $20.00 puts on Ultra Petroleum, long JAN 2014 $30.00 calls on Ultra Petroleum, long JAN 2014 $40.00 calls on Ultra Petroleum, and long JAN 2014 $50.00 calls on Ultra Petroleum. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Ultra Petroleum. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.