Most income investors are probably familiar with one of the country's largest MLPs, Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD). However, while many might know the basics, including that it pays a generous 6% distribution and primarily transports natural gas liquids (NGL), there's much more to this story. Here are five things that most investors probably didn't know about this midstream giant.

1. It's grown the asset base from $715 million to $52 billion since its IPO in 1998

Enterprise Products Partners' management team has significantly expanded the company over the years. They've used their access to the public market to help finance roughly $36 billion worth of organic growth projects and $26 billion worth of mergers and acquisitions since the company's initial public offering, expanding the company's asset base from $715 million to more than $52 billion. These growth initiatives have enabled the company to increase its distribution 59 times since the IPO, including in each of the past 50 quarters. That distribution growth streak is showing no signs of stopping, because the company currently has another $7.1 billion of growth projects in development -- including $2.6 billion of projects that should enter service next quarter -- and it recently spent $189 million to buy assets out of a bankruptcy proceeding.

Aerial view of an oil terminal in a harbor

Image source: Getty Images.

2. It owns enough pipelines to circle the Earth twice

As a result of those investments, Enterprise Products Partners now controls 49,300 miles of natural gas, NGL, crude-oil, petrochemical, and refined-products pipelines. That's enough pipe to circle the Earth nearly twice if laid end-to-end. Meanwhile, almost 40% of those pipelines, or about 20,000 miles, are regulated NGL and refined-product pipelines, which transport more than 2 million barrels per day to locations across 27 states via its interconnected system.

3. Enterprise is the largest LPG exporter in the entire world

In addition to operating a vast pipeline network, Enterprise Products Partners is the largest exporter of liquefied petroleum gas in the world. Last year it exported 155.4 million barrels of LPG, which was 49% of the U.S. total. As the chart on the slide below shows, Enterprise now exports more LPG than any country besides the U.S.:

Slide showing global LPG trade by country.

Image source: Enterprise Products Partners investor presentation.

Currently, Enterprise Products Partners has the bulk of its 14 million barrel-per-month LPG export capacity committed under long-term contracts through 2019. For comparison, it has twice the LPG export capacity of rival Targa Resources (NYSE:TRGP). Further, Targa Resources only has about two-thirds of its capacity under contract through 2022, which opens it up to potential cash flow volatility.

4. It operates the largest ethane export terminal in the world

One of the keys to Enterprise's success has been its ability to expand into adjacent products and services. Last year, for example, it expanded its NGL export service capabilities by completing an ethane export facility on the Gulf Coast. With the capacity to load 10,000 barrels per hour, it's the largest facility of its kind in the world.

5. Only 8% of its gross margin has commodity price exposure

Another focus for Enterprise over the past few years has been to build and buy assets that generate stable fee-based cash flow. As a result, the company has significantly reduced its exposure to commodity-price volatility. Overall, the percentage of its gross operating margin coming from commodity-price-exposed gathering and processing assets has declined from 32% in 2011 to 8% in 2016. Meanwhile, with $7.1 billion of primarily fee-based assets under construction, that number should continue to decline over the next few years. Contrast this with Targa Resources, which only gets about 70% of its gross margin from fees, leaving it much more exposed to commodity-price volatility.

Investor takeaway

Enterprise Products Partners has built an impressive asset base. More importantly, the company has focused its expansion efforts on assets that have grown the stability of its income stream. Therefore, the company shouldn't have any problem continuing to pay a steadily rising distribution for several years to come.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.