Big oil companies nearly doubled their profits from petroleum production after the Middle East crisis erupted, but most gains were offset by lower earnings from refining, marketing and the chemical business, a government report says.

The major oil companies' net earnings rose only 1.7 percent in the third quarter, despite soaring prices for crude oil and petroleum products, the Energy Information Administration said."There's no statistical evidence that profiteering took place," said Calvin A. Kent, administrator of the Energy Department agency, although he said he could not rule out the possibility of some isolated cases of profiteering.

A study of third-quarter earnings reports from the oil companies showed that the jump in oil prices after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2 "did not result in runaway profits for U.S. companies," Kent said at a news conference.

Some consumer groups that closely follow energy issues greeted the report with skepticism.

Edwin Rothschild, an energy analyst for Public Citizen, accused the Energy Department of protecting the oil companies and said Congress should examine the companies' financial reports independently.