DALLAS – Exxon Mobil Corp. rode higher oil prices to a $30 billion profit last year. But shareholders at its annual meeting Wednesday were more concerned about its big push into natural gas.

Since buying XTO Energy last year for $29 billion, Exxon has become the largest natural gas company in the United States. It now owns more gas than crude oil.

So far, the deal hasn’t paid off. Natural gas prices are around $4.42 per 1,000 cubic feet. That’s slightly below the price when the XTO deal closed and well below levels seen three years ago — one reason, analysts say, why Exxon’s stock has lagged behind that of rivals Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson defended Exxon’s emphasis on natural gas in his opening remarks to shareholders.

“Natural gas will be the fastest-growing major energy source and will overtake coal as the second-largest global energy source behind only oil,” he said.

In January, Exxon said it expected natural gas to supply 26 percent of world energy demand by 2030, up from 22.1 percent in 2010. Oil is expected to provide 32 percent and coal 21 percent, dropoffs from 34.2 percent and 25.3 percent, respectively.

Gas drilling also is attracting more attention from environmentalists and government officials, who say it poses the threat of contaminating underground water supplies.

Shareholders voted 3-to-1 to reject a resolution that called for the company to disclose more information about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — the pumping of tons of water and chemicals into the ground to break open rock formations and extract the gas.

Chevron, which has boosted its own natural gas business in the past year, faces a similar vote at its own shareholder meeting Wednesday.

Tillerson said fracking technology has been around for decades — it’s just being used more widely today — and can be done safely.

“There is nothing mysterious about any of this to those of us who work in this industry,” he told reporters after the meeting.

Such controversies are not new at Exxon meetings. Every year, shareholders face a long list of resolutions on everything from greenhouse gas emissions to gay rights.

In 2010, Exxon staged a comeback of sorts. It earned $30.5 billion after making $19.3 billion in 2009, its smallest profit in seven years.

But Exxon shares rose just 7 percent last year compared with a 19 percent gain at Chevron and 33 percent at ConocoPhillips. They’ve been more competitive so far this year. Still, only four of 17 analysts surveyed by FactSet have a “Buy” rating for Exxon.

Benchmark Co. analyst Mark Gilman said Exxon’s share price — it closed Tuesday at $81.29 — isn’t justified by future growth potential.