What happened

Shares of Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) skyrocketed 35.8% through the first half of 2019, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. Several factors have helped fuel the natural gas pipeline giant's stock, including its solid first-quarter results and progress on the growth front.

So what

Kinder Morgan's growth engine kicked into another gear this year. The company's cash flow surged 10% year over year during the first quarter, thanks to a strong showing in its natural gas pipeline business. That puts the company on track to exceed its full-year forecast, which would see it produce a record $5 billion, or $2.20 per share, of cash flow. The company also fulfilled its promise to investors by boosting its dividend another 25% during the first quarter.

A person in a suit with an outstreched hand that has a bright light and upward chart coming out of it.

Image source: Getty Images.

Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan kept its growth engine well-fueled. The pipeline giant added $600 million of expansion projects during the first quarter -- primarily related to natural gas infrastructure -- which more than offset the $200 million of new assets it placed into service during the period. That helped boost its project backlog up to $6.1 billion.

The pipeline company also made good progress on other projects it has in development. While Kinder Morgan walked away from one growth opportunity, it took notable steps forward on several others. For example, it teamed up with fellow pipeline company Tallgrass Energy (NYSE:TGE) on a solution that could potentially increase oil transportation capacity out of the Rockies. Kinder Morgan would contribute two underutilized natural gas pipelines to the partnership that would also see Tallgrass Energy expand its Pony Express pipeline. Moving forward with that joint venture could also enable Kinder Morgan to expand its Double H oil pipeline in North Dakota.

Now what

The market is finally starting to reward Kinder Morgan for all its hard work in recent years. The company has significantly improved its financial profile, as well as enhance the visibility of its growth prospects.

While shares of the pipeline giant have been red-hot this year, the stock could have more upside. Shares remain ridiculously cheap given the amount of cash the company is on track to produce this year, and the company's growth engine is still revving up. That's why Kinder Morgan looks like one of the top buys in the oil patch.

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.