Not all oil and gas companies are alike. Some produce more of one than the other. Some like to drill on land, while others prefer to drill offshore. And still other companies distinguish themselves by the countries in which they choose to operate.

For small-cap gas producer Petroleum Development (NASDAQ:PETD), doing things a little differently has paid off to the tune of a nearly 10-fold increase in the share price over the past five years.

Unlike most energy companies, Petroleum Development engages extensively in drilling partnerships. In these arrangements, the company assembles a group of investors (usually taking a 20%-or-so interest) who buy shares in a drilling partnership. The company is then paid by the partnership to drill the well(s), while still retaining a partial ownership interest in the follow-on proceeds. Not only does this limit the company's risk exposure, but the sale of partnerships brings in a fair bit of cash.

What's more, Petroleum Development tends to focus its efforts on lower-risk drilling. Although the company does engage in some exploratory drilling, a large percentage of its activities are in development drilling -- that is, drilling relatively shallow wells that have a higher likelihood of generating cash quickly.

For the fourth quarter, Petroleum Development experienced a 22% increase in revenue on the back of higher production and higher gas (and oil) prices. While net income was pretty flat compared with the year-ago period, about half a million dollars of Sarbanes-Oxley expenses and a higher tax rate in this quarter are largely responsible.

Although the company has a good history of growth behind it, its future is inextricably linked to the oil and gas markets -- especially the gas market, since more than 80% of its production is natural gas. While Petroleum Development has decent reserves and is working hard to increase production on its Rocky Mountain properties despite a shortage of drilling rigs, those fundamentals are generally going to get overruled by the larger trends in the energy market.

As such, Petroleum Development doesn't look particularly cheap or expensive in comparison with other energy producers. That said, the focus on lower-risk drilling activity and drilling partnerships does raise the possibility that this company might be a somewhat lower-risk play in energy exploration.

Investors must do their own due diligence, of course, but this considerably under-followed energy company might be just different enough to merit a further look.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).