Patterson-UTI Energy ( PTEN - Get Report), a contract oil and natural gas driller, said its first-quarter earnings more than doubled from the year-ago period.

The company earned $159.3 million, or 91 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $58.2 million, or 34 cents a share, a year ago. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were expecting earnings of 85 cents a share in the most recent quarter.

First-quarter revenue rose 70.5% from a year ago to $597.7 million, topping analysts' expectation of $562.3 million.

During the first quarter, there was an increase in the pricing, led by strong demand for its services along with the ongoing scarcity of land-based drilling rigs, the company said.

The company said its president and chief operating officer, Glenn Patterson, is retiring from day-to-day responsibilities. However, he will continue to be an adviser to the company. Chief executive Cloyce A. Talbot, will take on the role of president.

The company also said it will double its quarterly dividend to 8 cents a share. The dividend is to be paid June 30 to shareholders of record on June 15.

"Our rig count also increased sequentially from the fourth quarter of 2005," the company said. "During the just completed quarter we had an average of 300 rigs operating, including 282 in the U.S. and 18 in Canada."

The company's stock was trading at $33.35, down $1.62, or 4.6% Wednesday.

This story was created through a joint venture between and IRIS.