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You’ll Never Guess Who is Really Leading America’s Energy Boom

By Matthew DiLallo – Mar 24, 2014 at 3:45AM

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America’s energy boom isn’t being fueled by spending from big oil, instead it’s being driven by small businesses.


Photo credit: Chesapeake Energy 

America is on pace to pass both Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer next year according to the International Energy Agency. We already top the world in natural gas production. Because of that we should be close to energy self-sufficient in the next two decades. You'll be shocked to know who is leading the boom.

It's not big oil giants like ExxonMobil (XOM 2.61%) or Chevron (CVX 1.47%) as both were late to the party. Instead both acquired the way into America's energy boom as ExxonMobil paid $31 billion to buy XTO Energy while Chevron spent a more modest $3.1 billion to acquire Atlas Energy. It was smaller energy companies like XTO and Atlas that were the early leaders of America's energy boom. In fact, America's energy boom has been led by about 20,000 small and midsized businesses with the typical business in the energy industry employing fewer than 15 people.

The founders of fracking and their small business roots
The discovery of using fracking to unlock natural gas from shale is largely credited to George Mitchell and his small team at Mitchell Energy & Development. Mitchell was a real entrepreneur as he is not only credited with finding the key to unlocking America's vast natural gas resources, but he also began the development of The Woodlands, which is a master-planned community near Houston. Mitchell eventually grew his small energy company to the point where he was able to sell Mitchell Energy to Devon Energy (DVN 1.84%) for $3.1 billion.

Photo credit: Devon Energy 

Another of the early leaders of America's energy boom was Chesapeake Energy (CHKA.Q). The company was founded in 1989 by Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward with an initial investment of just $50,000. The flamboyant wildcatters and small business entrepreneurs built the company into America's second largest natural gas producer behind ExxonMobil. Ward and McClendon have both since left Chesapeake Energy, each founding the next wave of small energy companies that continue to grow along with the energy boom.

Small business boom
Many of the energy companies operating in America are smaller producers that hope to grow into a Chesapeake Energy or be acquired by a company like Devon Energy or Chevron. These smaller energy companies are the core jobs creators in the energy boom. It's not just energy related jobs either, what's really remarkable is that for every one energy related job these smaller producers create, three additional "induced" jobs are created on average. Induced jobs can be in industries like housing, retail or construction that are necessary to support the growing employment in the energy industry.

CNN Money, for example, recently profiled a woman that moved from Michigan to Pennsylvania to take advantage of the drilling boom. The small business she owned with her boyfriend was a trucking company that moved oilfield equipment. She, however, saw the need for fireproof clothing and safety equipment and has since opened up two retail stores dedicated to providing oilfield service workers with safety equipment at a reasonable price. Like Chesapeake Energy, her business was founded with a modest $50,000 investment, which is expected to yield $3.5 million in sales this year. America's energy boom is filled with similar stories.

Photo credit: Flickr/sushi_ina 

The American oilfield has always been a place where entrepreneurs flocked. While that has created boom and bust cycles, the small business led boom has fueled tremendous economic growth. This latest boom is estimated to have added $300-$400 billion to the U.S. economy over the last few years and is largely credited with keeping our economy from falling back into a recession.

Investor takeaway
While natural gas and oil are the fuels we're after in the latest energy boom, what's really driving the boom is small business. For investors the takeaway is pretty clear, smaller oil and gas companies as well as the supply chain needed to support the industry is a good place to search for investments that are profiting from the energy boom.

One small business investment you don't want to miss

Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. The Motley Fool owns shares of Devon Energy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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