PetroChina (NYSE:PTR) may have been the reporting caboose among international oil companies, but it certainly wasn't bringing up the rear when it came to quarterly earnings.

For the first half of 2009, PetroChina's profits dropped 7.2% year over year, on a top line that plunged 25%. Yet the company actually increased second-quarter net income by more than 25%! At the same time, it disclosed ambitious plans for growth in refining and other areas, enabling the company to more effectively complete with international rivals such as ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), BP (NYSE:BP), and Chevron (NYSE:CVX).

For the first half of the year, PetroChina recorded a gain of $7.39 billion. It blamed the decline from last year, which was far less severe than those experienced by most other integrated companies, on collapsed oil prices and depressed domestic demand.

The company remains particularly successful on the natural gas front. During the six-month period, gas output increased by 10.6% to 1.2 trillion cubic feet. This double-digit growth in gas production is rapidly becoming a tradition at PetroChina.

In addition, the refining business generated a profit of CNY 17.19 billion, improving from an operating loss of CNY 59.02 billion last year. However, PetroChina's production of crude oil for the first half of 2009 declined to 417.7 million barrels, or 4.8% below the same period a year ago.

PetroChina has unveiled several plans to foster its growth, including acquiring a production sharing stake from its parent company, China National Petroleum Corp., in a Turkmenistan gas field. In addition, it plans to substantially increase its refining capacity by 2017, and it's seeking downstream acquisition opportunities internationally.

Chinese petroleum companies' results have been spotty during the most recent six-month reporting period. Refiner Sinopec (NYSE:SNP) unleashed record profits, while offshore operator CNOOC's (NYSE:CEO) results declined 55%. Nevertheless, if the government raises petroleum product prices (as expected), PetroChina could be looking at a very positive second half.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. CNOOC is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.