After spending much of the past year at no better than a four-star rank, El Paso (NYSE: EP) has impressed enough top-performing members of our 160,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community to climb back up to five stars. A total of 820 members have given their opinion on the natural gas firm, with many of them offering analysis and commentary to explain their recent optimism.

El Paso couples together its ownership and interests in North America's largest interstate natural gas pipeline system with its exploration and production business. Many CAPS members like the balance provided by such a structure and see good potential for El Paso. 

The company bounced back to a profit in the fourth quarter, after a $1.69 billion loss in the prior-year period, and management likes the strong start it's seen so far this year. The company is currently focused on growing its exploration business and boosting liquidity through asset sales. Some investors see a lot of options for El Paso to unlock even more value from its various assets.

El Paso recently struck a $300 million deal with Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) to sell Mexican pipeline assets. And not long after completing a liquefied natural gas terminal expansion and pipeline in Georgia, El Paso inked an $810 million deal with El Paso Pipeline Partners (NYSE: EPB) to sell off a piece of the operating businesses.   

At 42,000 miles, El Paso's pipeline system is larger than Kinder Morgan Energy Partners' (NYSE: KMP) 37,000 miles and Williams Companies' (NYSE: WMB) 15,000 miles. It transports more than a quarter of the nation's natural gas each day -- an asset that offers plenty of upside. The company recently locked in pipeline deals with Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) and Statoil (NYSE: STO) to grow its presence in the Marcellus Shale, and it will soon start construction on its Ruby gas pipeline from Wyoming to Oregon.

With operations showing improvement over last year, and the company boosting its production target this year, many CAPS members think El Paso is only getting stronger.

Do you think El Paso deserves its raised status? Add your thoughts in the comments box below on this page, or head over to CAPS to rate the company and check out all the information and opinions the community offers, absolutely free.

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Fool contributor Dave Mock once upgraded his wagon with racing stripes, which absolutely boosted its downhill speed, regardless of what naysayers contend. He owns no shares of companies mentioned here. Chesapeake Energy is an Inside Value pick. Statoil is an Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of Chesapeake Energy. The Fool's disclosure policy was the life of the party last night, but remembers very little of specific events.