Helping to round out last week's spate of energy company earnings reports, California-based Chevron (NYSE:CVX) checked in on Friday with second-quarter numbers that disappointed investors, prompting them to send the company's shares tumbling to the tune of 1.6% on the day.

Was that reaction over the top? Perhaps.

On the one hand, Chevron's earnings per share of $1.76 on net income of $3.7 billion in the second quarter does seem to compare unfavorably with the $4.1 billion and $1.94 per stub the firm reported during the comparable 2004 period. Those year-ago numbers, however, were fattened by a one-time asset-sales gain of $0.6 billion and by tax code changes that boosted the company's international operations by some $0.2 billion.

Take those items out of the equation, and Chevron's second-quarter net income would actually be higher than in 2004. What's more, the firm's quarterly earnings pole-vaulted over the estimates of analysts who were, on average, expecting something in the range of $1.65-$1.69 per share.

On the other hand.

The lion's share of Chevron's good news this quarter owes to surging crude oil prices, a phenomenon that -- entrenched though it may currently seem -- is likely temporary. The current trend also benefits its competition -- companies such as ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), BP (NYSE:BP), and Total SA (NYSE:TOT). Another notch against Chevron is that the company's "downstream" operations -- i.e., the refining and distribution of its petrochemical products -- actually took a dive compared with 2004's second quarter.

Indeed, owing in part to what the company characterized as "refinery downtime" in its announcement, downstream profits fell by 7% relative to the year-ago period, as the effects of facility maintenance and repairs weighed on results. What's more, oil production at Chevron has been on the decline for some time now, with the company increasingly looking to new, largely international ventures to help pump up supply.

I think that's a smart move, and if Chevron emerges the victor, a proposed merger with Unocal (NYSE:UCL) would increase production, too.

As I argue here, investors contemplating the energy industry's major players these days should look past fat revenue figures that owe to the sky-high price of crude and examine operational efficiencies before tapping shares. With that in mind, this quarter's hiccups at Chevron are worrisome, but I don't think they sink the investment thesis for the firm.

Chevron, after all, is the No. 2 American player in an industry in which size really does matter, and the firm's capital expenditures -- which rose to $4.2 billion during the first half of 2005 -- indicate that it is, in fact, planning fairly aggressively for the future. Factor in its history of delivering for shareholders over the long haul -- not to mention a single-digit price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) over the past 12 months -- and Chevron, while it's no ExxonMobil,does look like an intriguing long-term proposition for energy-hungry investors.

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Shannon Zimmerman heads up The Motley Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service. Shannon doesn't own any of the securities mentioned above. The Motley Fool has a rock-solid disclosure policy.