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Bruce March, president and CEO of Imperial Oil, addresses the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Thursday, April 28, 2011.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Imperial Oil Ltd. says its first-quarter profit was up 30 per cent from the same time last year, rising slightly above $1-billion and coming in ahead of analyst expectations.

The Calgary-based energy producer, refiner and distributor of the Esso brand of gasoline says it earned $1.19 per share — beating analyst estimates of $1 per share.

The profit was up from 91 cents per share or $781-million in the first quarter of 2011.

Imperial Oil's revenue increased by nine per cent to $7.5-billion from $6.9-billion.

In February, Imperial said it's going ahead with a $2-billion expansion to its Cold Lake oil sands operation in northeastern Alberta, part of a plan to double overall production by the end of the decade.

The project, called Nabiye, will add 40,000 barrels per day of bitumen production after it starts up in late 2014, a 25 per cent boost to Cold Lake's current output.

Cold Lake is the largest thermal in-situ oil sands project in the world, and Imperial's biggest producing asset, comprising about half of its daily liquids production.

Imperial, majority-owned by Houston-based energy heavyweight ExxonMobil Corp. , is in the midst of building its massive Kearl oilsands mine. The first 110,000-barrel-per day phase of that project is set to come on stream around the end of this year.

About a year ago, it said the pricetag for the first phase is expected to be $10.9-billion, a substantial increase from its earlier estimate of $8-billion.

In December, Imperial's board of directors approved an $8.9-billion expansion that will begin producing 110,000 barrels per day by late 2015.

When the Calgary-based firm announced in 2009 that it would build the Kearl mine, it expected three phases of roughly the same size. Later, it decided to instead build the mine in two phases, with smaller projects along the way to boost output in increments.

In addition to its oil sands holdings, Imperial also runs a chain of Esso-branded fuel stations across the country, as well as refineries in Alberta and Ontario.