This week brought earnings releases from two hearty Canadian oil and gas independents. One said hello to new oil sands production, while the other said goodbye to the Bakken oil formation. Both are in great financial shape, and are worth a look for any Fools getting interested in this beaten-down sector.

Let's begin with Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE:CNQ), whose Horizon oil sands project last year drew some very high-profile visitors. The massive project has seen its fair share of hitches along the way to this past quarter's commercial startup, but is still one of the lowest-cost operations of its kind. Petro-Canada (NYSE:PCZ) and Teck Cominco would kill for these install costs.

With oil in the $40-$50 range, an oil sands operation is perhaps not the most enviable asset today. But Canadian Natural ought to make it through this period just fine, with some handy derivatives in place. It's well worth toughing out this dip in the commodity cycle for the decades of increasing oil production, and massive free cash flows, over the, er, horizon.

Canadian Natural is both a disciplined capital allocator and a skilled risk manager. Return on capital employed hit 19% in 2008, while return on equity jumped to 33%. As commodities collapsed in the fourth quarter, dropping per-barrel netbacks (sales prices minus royalties and production expenses) by more than half sequentially, Canadian Natural's risk management really shone through, with per-barrel cash flows dropping only 13%.

For 2009, management has cut way back on its spending plan -- 57% less, compared to last year’s net capital expenditures. Underlining the fact that it has done so from a position of strength, Canadian Natural raised its dividend for the ninth straight year.

Talisman Energy (NYSE:TLM) is another company that has calmly navigated these treacherous waters. Having already divested about roughly $776 million of properties and reduced debt by an equivalent amount, Talisman has now unloaded its Bakken acreage for a cool $559 million. At around $66,000 per flowing barrel of daily production, that's a pretty rich price in this environment.

Talisman has chosen to focus on its unconventional gas plays. This is reminiscent of Chesapeake Energy's (NYSE:CHK) sale of its own Bakken assets to Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) last year. Meanwhile, EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) and XTO Energy (NYSE:XTO) are all about the Bakken. It's interesting to see such a divide between these great E&P minds. Different strokes, I suppose.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.