US supermajor ExxonMobil on Friday posted net earnings of $6.8 billion for the third quarter — the highest since the last quarter of 2017 — with improving demand, higher oil and natural gas prices and operational efficiencies helping to boost results.

The company also announced that it will resume its share-buyback program, a practice it suspended in 2016.

The quarterly profit was an emphatic reversal of the $680 million loss posted in the same period of 2020.

Its third quarter 2021 capital expenditure was $3.9 billion, bringing the investment total in the first nine months of 2021 to $10.8 billion, primarily in the company's advantaged assets in Guyana, in the Permian basin of west Texas and south-east New Mexico, and its chemicals business.

“All three of our core businesses generated positive earnings during the quarter, with strong operations and cost control, as well as increased realisations and improved demand for fuels,” said chairman and chief executive Darren Woods in a statement.

Production volumes in the Permian basin averaged approximately 500,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, a 30% increase from the third quarter of 2020.

The company remains focused on growing free cash flow by lowering development costs and increasing recovery.

ExxonMobil paid down its gross debt by an additional $4 billion, reducing its gross debt by $11 billion year to date.

“Free cash flow more than covered the dividend and $4 billion of additional debt reduction. With the progress made in restoring the strength of our balance sheet, this week we announced a dividend increase maintaining 39 consecutive years of annual dividend growth," said Woods.

The company said it is on track to achieve its 2025 upstream emission intensity target by the end of this year and will announce in December its plans for "more aggressive emission reductions".