It's been a pretty rough year for stock investors, with the S&P basically ending flat in 2011. While the general market went nowhere last year, quite a few stocks poured in monster performances.

With oil prices remaining high and natural gas prices continuing to fall, these gainers were mainly the result of companies rebounding much more strongly than investors expected.

Brent Crude Oil Spot Price Chart

Brent Crude Oil Spot Price Chart by YCharts

Here's a list of this year's top 15 performers in the energy industry:



YTD Return

1 Golar LNG (Nasdaq: GLNG)  208.7%
2 Cabot Oil & Gas  106.3%
3 El Paso  92.0%
4 Southern Union  79.8%
5 EV Energy Partners LP (Nasdaq: EVEP)  76.7%
6 Atlas Energy (NYSE: ATLS)  65.6%
7 Parker Drilling  63.0%
8 Delek US  60.2%
9 Hornbeck Offshore Services  57.8%
10 Targa Resources  57.5%
11 Atlas Pipeline Partners (NYSE: APL)  54.8%
12 Cheniere Energy (AMEX: LNG)  54.2%
13 Newpark Resources (NYSE: NR)  53.4%
14 ONEOK Partners  51.9%
15 Kodiak Oil & Gas (NYSE: KOG)  50.0%

Source: S&P Capital IQ. Only includes companies listed on U.S. exchanges with a market capitalization greater than $500 million.

The past year in energy certainly has had its ups and downs, but these 15 companies finished ahead of the pack.

As the saying goes, though, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. If you're looking for a strong outperformer in the year ahead, our analysts have selected a stock that they believe is poised for tremendous growth in 2012. Find out which company in our new free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." Thousands have already requested access and it'll only be available for a limited time. Simply click here -- it's free.

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.