Updated from 1:51 p.m. EDT

Oil prices caught a bid Thursday as bulls continued to defend the $60-a-barrel support level.

After falling to $60.20 earlier, December crude finished up 43 cents to $61.09 a barrel. Unleaded gasoline rose nearly a penny to $1.59 a gallon. Natural gas dropped 34 cents to $13.70 per million British thermal units. Heating oil finished down a fraction of a penny at $1.85 per gallon.

Gas was under pressure after the Energy Department said U.S. inventories rose by 77 billion cubic feet last week, ahead of estimates for a rise of about 65 billion. The report comes a day after the department reported a stronger-than-expected jump in crude stocks.

Wednesday's crude report "was not a big surprise," said Mike Armbruster, energy analyst at Altavest Worldwide Trading. "The real problem is the refining capacity. That's what we really have to grapple with. The products are going to be the leader rather than crude.

"In the big picture, we're still a bit bearish about the market," Armbruster added. "We wouldn't be anxious to take a position right now."

The recovery of storm-battered refineries in the Gulf of Mexico continues. The U.S. Minerals Management Service said Thursday the gulf's shut-in oil production was about 1 million barrels of oil per day, the equivalent to 68.15% of the gulf's daily oil production. The shut-in gas production was 5.559 billion cubic feet per day, the equivalent to 55.59% of the gulf's daily gas production.

In company news, Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS-A) posted third quarter earnings of $9.39 billion, or $1.35 a share, up 67% from last year's $5.62 billion, or 80 cents a share. The latest period included a gain of $1.77 billion related to the sale of a Dutch pipeline and certain gas contracts. Shell's top line rose 8% to $77.44 billion.

Exxon ( XOM) posted third-quarter net income of $9.92 billion, or $1.58 a share, up from $5.68 billion, or 88 cents a share, a year ago. Results included a $1.62 billion gain from a business realignment.

Revenue jumped to $100.7 billion from $76.4 billion a year ago. Excluding items, Exxon earned $8.3 billion, or $1.32 a share, missing the Thomson First Call average consensus of $1.38 a share. The stock was recently down 45 cents, or 0.8%, to $55.75 on Instinet.

Marathon Oil ( MRO) reported third-quarter net income of $770 million, or $2.09 a share, up from $222 million, or 64 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding items, the oil company earned $797 million, or $2.16 a share. The Thomson Financial consensus was for earnings of $2.73 a share.

Offshore drilling company Patterson-UTI Energy ( PTEN) said net income jumped 268% to $110 million, or 63 cents per share. Revenues rose 81% to $469 million, compared to $259 million for the third quarter of 2004.

Houston-based energy company Apache ( APA) said third quarter earnings jumped 60% to a record $686 million, or $2.05 a share, despite the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on production. Revenue increased to $2.06 billion from $1.41 billion in the year-earlier period. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had expected earnings of $2.31 per share on sales of $2.01 billion.

Onshore drilling services company Grey Wolf ( GW) posted third quarter net income of $31.8 million, or 14 cents per share, compared with net income of $5.5 million, or 3 cents per share, for the year ago period. Revenues rose to $181.5 million, up from $116.3 million in the third quarter of 2004.

Unit Corp. ( UNT) said third quarter net income was $57.6 million, or $1.25 per share, on revenues of $231 million, compared to 2004's net income of $24.6 million, or 54 cents per share, on revenue of $143.4 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected the Tulsa, Okla.-based energy company to post net income of $1.11 per share on revenue of $204.7 million.

Burlington Resources ( BR) posted third quarter income of $748 million, or $1.96 a share, up from $394 million, or $1 a share, a year ago. The company said the increase resulted from higher commodity prices, increased production, share repurchases and an after-tax gain on the sale of Permian Basin Royalty Trust units of 19 cents per share. Revenue increased to $1.95 billion from $1.42 billion a year earlier.

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