Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) is a global integrated energy company that drills for, refines and sells oil and natural gas . Although the company sells some of the crude oil that it produces to other refineries, it makes most of its money from the sale of its finished petroleum products (gasoline, lubricants, heating oil) to resellers and to consumers through its own retail locations. The critical shortage of refining capacity within the U.S., where strict environmental regulations have prevented the construction of new refineries since 1976, and growing oil demand have supported healthy refining and marketing margins in recent years. Moreover, as oil prices have continued to rise, labor and technologically intensive projects such as deep sea drilling and oil sands have become more economically feasible. The company earned $53 billion in revenue and $1.5 billion in net income in 2009.
Steady increases in global crude prices affects Marathon in a two-fold manner; higher crude prices benefits its E&P segment which sells crude to refineries, however, their refineries incur higher operating expenses as a result. Marathon's operations include a seven-plant refining network with 974,000 barrels per day of crude oil throughput. With the majority of the business generated from the R&M segment, Marathon must ensure that its refineries remain in top condition.
Although Marathon is small compared to Exxon Mobil (XOM) or ChevronTexaco (CVX), it is focused on growing its upstream E&P segment to reap the profits of a high-price oil environment. Marathon is choosing focus on developing a large presence in select geographic areas with proven trends in Norway, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and the Gulf of Mexico.
Marathon is well-poised to benefit from a rise in ethanol, which is becoming an increasingly attractive oil alternative due to the fundamental rise in oil prices. Marathon formed a 50/50 joint venture to coruct and operate ethanol plants, the first of which will be located in Greenville, Ohio. Marathon is already quite experienced with ethanol blending with 15 years of experience underneath its belt. 
Higher oil prices translate into higher profits for Marathon, but market fluctuations make it difficult to know for certain what the oil outlook will be like.
The market price for oil depends largely on world oil supply, so the actions of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have a huge impact on oil prices. OPEC accounts for approximately 40% of the world's crude oil supply and can increase or decrease the amount of oil on the market to maintain attractive oil prices for its member countries. However, OPEC has been increasingly losing control over the oil market--oversupply from non-OPEC production has cut away at OPEC's influence.
Oil prices may also be hurt the recent spike in interest towards alternative fuels like ethanol (see below, Alternative Energy). Together with oversupply and loss of OPEC control, competing alternative fuels could force a downturn in oil prices. A slowdown in economic growth could also reduce demand for energy and lower oil prices.
The rise of petroleum prices has been slowly countered by the increasing financial feasibility of alternative energy replacements for traditional oil products. Alternative energy is still some years off from widespread adoption; alternative energy challenges like low production volume, low of production efficiency, and lack of infrastructure (some new fuels require distribution infrastructure separate from existing oil pipelines) all have yet to be overcome. However, energy sources such as ethanol, solar or wind end up taking off, the negative impact on the oil and gas industry could be huge.
Companies in the oil and energy sector operate and compete with each other in different areas, such as chemicals, refining, oil exploration, etc. Marathon faces direct competition from companies, such as: