There may just be a savior on the horizon for the North American oilfield services contingent. No, it's not oil, but natural gas that appears to be lining up to make U.S. energy production interesting again.

On Tuesday, Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI) reported earnings that, while not spectacular from a growth perspective, exceeded expectations for the quarter. And with the "unconventional" gas plays that continue to be uncovered by the likes of independent producer Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) and others, Baker Hughes et al. could benefit materially.

More immediately, for the most recent quarter, Baker Hughes recorded income of $395 million, or $1.27 a share, up slightly more than 5% on the net income line from the $374.7 million, or $1.17 per share, that it chalked up a year earlier. Of the increase, six pennies were tied to the sale of Baker's surface-safety-systems unit. Revenues for the company's two operating units, drilling and evaluations, along with completion and production, were each 8% higher than in the first quarter of 2007.

According to Baker Hughes CEO Chad Deaton, and as both Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB) and Halliburton (NYSE: HAL) noted in conjunction with their releases, the future appears bright for the big oilfield service companies -- even in the States. Indeed, things may already have started to improve domestically. As Deaton said, "Results from North America were better than expected."

And looking ahead, he also noted, "Improving fundamentals for natural gas reflected in lower storage levels, higher natural gas prices, increased oil-directed drilling, and announcements by E&P operators of spending increases support higher drilling activity and additional opportunities for Baker Hughes in North America in the second half of 2008."

So high oil and gas prices, coupled with the work of such innovative domestic natural gas producers as Chesapeake and Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN), will likely benefit U.S. oilfield services meaningfully in the years ahead.

Admittedly, Baker's numbers for the March quarter could have been higher. But the company is a major worldwide player in the progressively more important world of oil and gas exploration and production. And beyond that, its forward P/E of just over 15 for this year and slightly more than 13 times for 2009 -- along with its robust balance sheet -- make it a name that probably should be memorized by Foolish investors.

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Chesapeake Energy is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Find out what the team thinks of Chesapeake's long-term outlook via a 30-day free trial.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith does own shares in Devon, but not in the other companies mentioned. He welcomes readers' questions, comments, or help with his impending move. The Fool has a disclosure policy.