Forward-looking Fools are much more interesting than forward-looking statements, and such Fools know to monitor project pipelines as predictors of future growth. Only in the energy space, though, do we watch for pipeline-project pipelines. Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE:ETP), in providing pipelines and related services to move America's natural gas, is building more than just a pipe dream.

ETP outperformed its own guidance for the first quarter of 2008, delivering a 5.5% increase in net earnings year over year, to $328 million. Because of share offerings to fund capital expenditures, per-share earnings rose only a penny to $1.34. While these earnings might appear rather tame on the surface, this company is in the midst of a serious physical growth spurt.

After allegations surfaced last year concerning gas-price manipulation by ETP traders, the stock was promptly removed as a recommendation of the Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter. ETP has since settled the dispute with the Commodity Futures Trade Commission for $10 million, though the issue remains in play with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Just in time for the ascent of natural gas in the succession of fossil fuel booms, ETP has acquired the Transwestern interstate pipeline, which connects Texas with the West Coast market. This $1.5 billion strategic transaction provides a critical foundation for further geographic expansion, like the ongoing effort to connect ETP's system to Phoenix, Arizona.

Additionally, ETP has partnered with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE:KMP) to create the Mid-Continent Express. This pipeline will connect Oklahoma to Alabama, commencing flow-through in 2009. Even at this early stage, much of the 1.4 billion cubic feet of daily capacity in that pipeline is spoken for, with Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) claming a significant portion. 

Given its progress on the regulatory front, and the success of its new pipeline initiatives, Energy Transfer Partners appears to be making all the right moves at just the right time to profit further from the growing domestic demand for natural gas.

Further Foolishness: