There's a little more swagger in the Lone Star State these days. New technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have ushered in an oil boom. If Texas were a country, it would rank as the 10th largest oil producer in the world. And with output surging, the state is poised to surpass Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait within a few years.
But how can the average investor participate? No doubt a few riverboat wildcatters will strike it rich. But speculative drillers are hardly suitable investments for, say, a retirement account.
But this company, in contrast, doesn't have to worry about dry holes or volatile commodity prices. Operating all of the boring infrastructure that keeps the oil fields humming, it's poised to profit from growing Texan production...while paying investors a nice 4.7% yield to boot.
Wait...back up....bigger than Kuwait?
Texas is an anomaly. Whereas giant conventional oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Qatar are in decline, new technology is giving Texas a second wind. In June 2013, the state's oil production hit 2.6 million bpd, up 140% over the past four years. Today, Texas makes up 36% of America's daily oil production, up from just 19% five years ago.
Much of this growth is being driven by the Eagle Ford, a 50 mile wide swath of shale that stretches from the Mexican border up through East Texas. In less than five years, production has surged from virtually nothing to over 800,000 barrels per day today. According to research broker ITG, Eagle Ford output could exceed three million bpd by 2019.
But the best is yet to come. According to early estimates provided by Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE: PXD ) , the nearby Spraberry Wolfcamp could contain some 50 billion barrels of recoverable oil, making it the second largest oil discovery in the world. Pioneer is the largest landowner in the region with plans to allocate half of its FY2013 $1.6 billion capital expenditure budget in the play.
Early drilling results have been promising. Last quarter Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN ) , which owns 250,000 acres in the area, drilled 19 horizontal wells. Many of these pilot projects posted initial 30-day production results over 1,000 BOE/d suggesting that the Wolfcamp has big commercial potential.
If these plays can live up to a fraction of the hype, then exiting days are ahead for Texas. But while many love the adventure of drilling for new finds, the ups and downs of oil prospecting may be a little too much risk for most investors to stomach.
Selling picks and shovels
That's why Plains All American Pipeline (NYSE: PAA ) is the perfect backdoor play on the Texas energy boom. The company operates one of the the largest midstream networks in the state (think of pipelines, storage facilities, and terminals) and gets paid for every barrel of oil that flows through its network. This allows Plains to profit from the growth of plays like the Barnett, Eagle Ford, and the Permian Basin, but without the volatile commodity prices or inherit risks of exploration.
The biggest problem in Texas is that growing oil production is outpacing the pipeline capacity needed to move it. Since 2009, Plains has spent over $300 million in new infrastructure and upgrades to support this growth. In April, the company announced that it would begin construction of a new 310 mile pipeline to ship oil from West Texas to refineries in Houston and Corpus Christi. The project will cost $375 million to complete and will add 200,000 bpd of takeaway capacity to the Permian Basin.
Additionally, Plains allows investors to participate in this expansion while paying out a 4.7% distribution yield. Try earning that in Treasuries. Best of all, the company has a great track record of rewarding unitholders. Since 2001, Plains' distribution has grown at a compounded 7.7% compounded annual clip. Surging Texas production -- not to mention growing output from the North Dakota Bakken and the Colorado Niobrara -- should fuel distribution hikes for years to come.
Foolish bottom line
Texas is on the front line of America's energy revolution. But not every investor is cut out for the risky world of exploration and production. However, some of the best opportunities will be companies supplying the figurative picks and shovels -- or in this case the services and pipelines. Plains' is just one of many conservative companies poised to profit.