As investments within the energy industry undergo substantial reformulations to account for the growing uncertainty over the fate of deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Fools seeking relative safety in the onshore space are encouraged to stick their heads inside a tiger's mouth.
Just to be sure this tiger is tame, perhaps we could invite a BP executive to be first in line.
The tiger in question is a 175-mile (onshore) natural gas pipeline that midstream operator Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE: ETP ) began constructing this week. The Tiger Pipeline will service the highly prospective Haynesville Shale and Bossier Sands regions in Louisiana and East Texas. Its builders boast of "significant distributable cash flow" emanating from this 42-inch pipeline right from the start.
Following an inaugural capacity of 2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) beginning during the first quarter of 2011, Energy Transfer Partners already has the long-term contracts in place to justify expansion to 2.4 Bcf/d before the end of 2011.
But aside from deploying sacrificial oil executives, how can we be sure this tiger is tame?
My Foolish colleague Toby Shute has tracked the major movements within the red-hot Haynesville Shale for some time, and the play has continued to prove that its productive potential is far more than hype. Haynesville-heavy Petrohawk Energy (NYSE: HK ) is experimenting with intentionally reduced flow rates to extend the producing life of wells, and Devon Energy's (NYSE: DVN ) encounter with rapidly declining flow rates from a test well in the East Texas portion is counterbalanced by robust expectations for the nearby Bossier Sands.
One can certainly argue that leading leaseholders in the Haynesville and Bossier plays -- particularly Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) and Devon Energy -- present compelling valuations of their own following steady declines in share prices year-to-date.
However, before flocking instinctively to the producers, savvy Fools will grant ample consideration to a midstream play on the same productive region. Looking back over the past two years since I first recommended these shares as "Your Pipeline to Income and Growth," Energy Transfer Partners' hefty income component (presently yielding more than 8%) has boosted the stock to an easy outperformance of even those popular drillers. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE: KMP ) , which partnered with its rival to build the Mid-Continent Express, is another strong contender for delivering midstream returns, with a 6.7% current annualized yield.
By building a pipeline to access some of the most promising onshore natural gas plays on the continent, lining up long-term contracts to remove risk from the undertaking, and doing it all while reducing its initial construction budget, Energy Transfer Partners continues to earn this Fool's wholehearted nod as one of the smartest long-term investments in onshore energy.
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