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Fuel pump at an Esso gas station on Parliament St. in Toronto.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Imperial Oil Ltd., the Canadian oil-sands company owned by Exxon Mobil Corp., reported first-quarter profit fell by more than half as crude prices tumbled by more than half.

Net income dropped to $421-million, or 50 cents a share, from $946-million, or $1.11, a year earlier, the Calgary-based company said in a statement on CNW Thursday. Excluding one-time items, per-share profit exceeded the 40 Canadian-cent average of 10 analysts' estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Imperial, which operates oil-sands mining facilities as well as refineries and Esso-brand gasoline stations in Canada, has said it will continue with plans to expand output despite falling crude prices. West Texas Intermediate oil, the U.S. benchmark, averaged $48.65 a barrel in the first quarter, down 51 per cent from the year-earlier period.

Capital spending in Western Canada's energy industry will fall 33 per cent to $46-billion in 2015, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said on Jan. 21. The number of wells drilled in the region is forecast to drop 30 per cent to 7,350 in response to the price plunge. Canada's output will be about 65,000 barrels a day less than a June forecast by the association.

Imperial's first-quarter production averaged 333,000 barrels a day, up 3,000 barrels from a year earlier, the company said.

Imperial plans to boost production from its Kearl oil-sands facility to 110,000 barrels a day. Output from Kearl in the quarter averaged 95,000 barrels, from 70,000 barrels a year earlier. The project, located 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray in Alberta, contains about 4.6 billion barrels of recoverable bitumen, according to the company's website.

Imperial climbed 2 cents to $53.73 in Toronto Wednesday. Exxon, which owned 70 per cent of Imperial as of year-end, is also scheduled to release its earnings Thursday.

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