By Anna Driver

Exxon Mobil Corp's profit rose 41 percent in the third quarter, slightly ahead of Wall Street estimates, as gains in crude oil prices and higher refining margins boosted results.

Oil companies around the world benefited in the third quarter from a jump in oil prices. Crude futures traded in New York averaged about $90 per barrel in the third quarter, up 18 percent from a year-ago, and Brent crude rose soared 48 percent.

"Their oil and gas production mix was a tick higher to the gas side than I thought," said Phil Weiss, oil analyst at Argus. "The concern I have is that they are becoming gassier and gassier, which is less lucrative."

Exxon is spending heavily to increase its shale gas production, especially in North America. Last year, it closed a deal for gas producer XTO Energy, and the oil company has steadily been purchasing acreage in shale fields like the Marcellus in the Eastern United States.

In the first nine months of this year, Exxon spent a record $26.7 billion.

The company realized better prices for natural gas in the third quarter, but hefty supplies have kept natural gas markets in North America depressed and trading at a deep discount to crude and natural gas liquids.

Exxon, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, reported a profit of $10.33 billion, or $2.13 per share, up from $7.35 billion, or $1.44 per share a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of $2.12 per share, according to data from Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Oil and natural gas production fell 4 percent to 4.28 million barrels oil equivalent (boe) per day in the quarter, even as the Irving.

Profit in the company's exploration and production business rose 54 percent to $8.39 billion, while Exxon's refining business saw profit rise 36 percent. Better refining margins increased Exxon's earnings by $1 billion, it said.

Shares of Exxon rose to $82.19 before the start of regular trading, up from a New York Stock Exchange close of $81.07.

(Reporting by Anna Driver in Houston, editing by Dave Zimmerman)