Energy shares drove U.S. stocks higher on Friday as India's largest listed company will form a joint venture with independent gas company Atlas Energy, while conflicting news on debt-laden Greece kept a lid on gains.

Atlas Energy shares jumped nearly 18 percent to $37.43 after major Indian energy company Reliance Industries agreed to pay $1.7 billion to form a joint venture to buy a stake in a shale project that could hold enough natural gas to satisfy U.S. demand for a decade.

The S&P energy sector <.GSPE> led the market's advance, with Exxon Mobil Corp up 1.4 percent at $68.84 and Chevron Corp up 2.1 percent at $79.28. Both companies also ranked at the top of the Dow industrials' gainers.

The catalyst on the energy side primarily is that (Reliance) took a considerable stake in Atlas. That has the energy group flying, said Tom Schrader, managing director of U.S. equity trading at Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets in Baltimore.

But he said the market was otherwise being whipped around on the uncertainty over what kind of financial aid Greece will receive if needed, and uncertainty after Fitch cut the euro-zone country's debt rating.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 49.73 points, or 0.46 percent, to 10,976.80. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 4.98 points, or 0.42 percent, to 1,191.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 8.73 points, or 0.36 percent, to 2,445.54.

The three major U.S. stock indexes were on track for a sixth straight week of gains -- a streak not seen since the market rebound from more than 12-year lows in March 2009.

Shares of J.C. Penney Co Inc , the big U.S. department store operator, jumped 2.4 percent to $31.72 after Goldman Sachs added the stock to a list of recommended buys.

The U.S. dollar index <.DXY> slipped 0.7 percent, while the euro rose nearly 1 percent against the U.S. currency. Markets took a break from beating Greek government bonds on Friday, but elevated yields still reflected concerns over the country's debt.

With few economic indicators due on Friday to move the market, investors geared up for the start of the first-quarter earnings season next week.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Jan Paschal)