For the 16th straight year, the Potential Gas Committee at the Colorado School of Mines has increased its estimate of the United States' natural gas resource base. Given the prospect of expanding domestic supplies of natural gas, should pipeline operators and their investors break out the party hats?

For now, at least, shareholders of Enterprise Product Partners (NYSE:EPD) can keep the hats stored away. In its latest quarter, Enterprise said net income fell 43%, and earnings per share fell by more than half. In the company's defense, most of that drop came from difficult comparisons to 2006, when the company was still receiving insurance payments for interrupted business as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2004. So, the latest quarter just represents a return to normal.

Enterprise is also building for the future, and that took a bite out of the bottom line, as well. With $2.1 billion in new refining and pipeline assets just ramping up, higher depreciation expenses and interest on the financing nicked net income by another $43 million. When those new assets are going full steam, though, those costs should be covered by new revenues.

But over the long term, and as one of the largest pipeline companies in the country, Enterprise is well-positioned to benefit from an upswing in natural gas usage anticipated over the next 25 years.

Enterprise is especially attractive because it offers investors a way tap into the energy boom without forcing them to put up with the gyrations in oil and gas prices that companies like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Anadarko (NYSE:APC) suffer through. Since Enterprise generates most of its revenues from pipeline charges, or "tolling," its fortunes depend less on price and more on volume.

And like other master limited partnerships, the firm generates large and regular distributions, the bulk of which are tax-deferred as long as you hold the shares. Income-oriented investors might want to give this Income Investor recommendation a look.

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Fool contributor Ron Vlieger doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned, but he does welcome your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.