Three more prominent oil companies reported flush quarterly earnings Wednesday in a further demonstration of how high prices for crude oil and natural gas have benefited the energy industry.

Earnings at

Chevron

(CHV)

tripled, earnings at

Kerr-McGee

(KMG)

were more than 21 times higher, and earnings at

Unocal

(UCL)

were six times higher.

Results at all three surpassed expectations and extended the trend of earnings strength among big American oil companies because of the rising price of crude oil and natural gas in the first quarter. Industry giants such as

ExxonMobil

(XOM) - Get Report

,

Texaco

(TX) - Get Report

,

Conoco

(COC.B)

and

Tosco

(TOS)

reported similarly healthy

results on Tuesday.

Chevron said first-quarter net income rose to $1.044 billion, or $1.59 a diluted share, from $329 million, or 50 cents a share, a year earlier. Sales rose 75% to $11.7 billion.

Wall Street had expected Chevron to post earnings of $1.46 cents, according to a poll conducted by

First Call/Thomson Financial

.

The San Francisco-based oil company said its tighter supplies helped to boost average sales as crude oil rose to an average $26.19 a barrel, a $16 increase compared with the first quarter of 1999. Natural gas prices rose $1.63 to $2.40 per thousand cubic feet.

Chevron was up 1 1/8, or 1%, at 85 15/16 in midday trading. (Chevron closed up 1 1/2, or 2%, at 86 5/16.)

Kerr-McGee, an exploration and production company based in Oklahoma City, said first-quarter earnings excluding special items rose to $180 million or $1.89 a diluted share, from $8 million, or 9 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 79% to $876 million.

Analysts polled by First Call had anticipated earnings of $1.86.

"An 18% increase in oil production from the prior-year quarter enhanced the impact of higher oil prices that peaked in early March of this year," said Luke Corbett, Kerr-McGee's chairman and chief executive. Crude oil soared to a nine-year high of more than $34 a barrel in March as inventories shrank.

Kerr-McGee shares were down 2 1/16, or 4%, at 55 15/16. (Kerr-McGee closed down 1 3/4, or 3%, at 56 1/4.)

Unocal, an oil and gas company based in El Segundo, Calif., said first-quarter earnings excluding special items rose to $139 million, or 57 cents a diluted share, from $20 million, or 8 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 61% to $1.88 billion.

Wall Street had expected the company to earn 55 cents a share, according to a survey conducted by First Call/Thomson Financial.

Unocal said it expected second-quarter earnings to exceed 50 cents a share based on an average price of $25.60 per barrel for the benchmark crude oil and $2.95 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. For the full year, Unocal has estimated earnings of $2.20-$2.50 a share.

Those estimates are above Wall Street's current earnings outlooks of 46 cents for second quarter 2000 and $1.91 for the year.

Unocal was up 15/16, or 3%, at 31 5/16. (Unocal closed up 1/2, or 2%, at 30 7/8.)