ExxonMobil is reportedly in preliminary talks with Texas-based low-cost oil and natural gas producer Pioneer Natural Resources, about a potential acquisition.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, discussions between the two companies have been informal, and ExxonMobil also discussed a potential tie-up with one other company.

Pioneer is engaged in hydrocarbon exploration and operates in the Cline Shale, a part of the Spraberry Trend of the Permian Basin.

It is the third-largest producer of oil in the US shale basin, after Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

A few weeks ago, the US shale oil producer denied a media report about considering an acquisition of smaller rival Range Resources.

ExxonMobil considers Pioneer as a top target to invest its profits in, and the talks may not lead to formal negotiations and Exxon may target another company, said the publication.

Last year, the oil and gas company reported record-high earnings of $55.7bn amid high oil and gas prices and ended the year with $29.6bn in cash and equivalents.

This week, ExxonMobil signalled that its first-quarter operating profits dropped about 25% from the fourth quarter of last year, as oil and gas prices dropped and refinery maintenance costs increased, said the publication.

Last month, ExxonMobil commenced operations at the $2bn Beaumont refinery expansion project in Texas, adding 250,000 barrels per day of capacity to the existing refinery.