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In the Energy Decade, Oil Companies Party Like It’s 1979

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The best economic seer of the last decade turned out to be T. Boone Pickens.

Back in 2008 Pickens, an oilpatch fixture since the 1970s, began pushing the idea that natural gas could become a "bridge" to a renewable energy future, and that the U.S. could become independent of foreign oil.

Five years later it's another earnings season in the oilpatch and all seems to be going according to plan. Independent exploration companies are prospering as never before.

Sterne Agee is raising its price target on Whiting Petroleum (WLL), the largest producer in North Dakota's Bakken formation. Energen (EGN), which is now emphasizing the Permian Basin of Texas, delivered strong results, Sterne Agee said. Ultra Petroleum (UPL) will do better as pipeline infrastructure reaches its production in Wyoming, the analyst says. Domestic production from Occidental Petroleum (OXY) was near the top line of Sterne Agee's estimates. Sterne Agee is also keeping its buy rating on Southwestern Energy (SWN), which is turning its gains in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale into new exploration in Colorado.

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It's not just the oil producers that are raking in money. Oil services companies like Schlumberger (SLB), Baker Hughes (BHI) and Superior Energy Services (SPN) are all up over 20%. Halliburton (HAL) is up over 35%.

If you're commuting to work in Houston, Dallas or Oklahoma City and worrying about traffic, or if you're looking for work in Williston, N.D. and finding it impossible to get a place to sleep unless you have a mobile home hitched to your pick-up, you know this. This is the best decade for U.S. energy companies, and thus for the whole center of the country from Texas to the Dakotas, since the 1970s.

While most of Wall Street's attention is focused on tech companies like Twitter (TWTR) and Facebook (FB), on futuristic manufacturing companies like 3D Systems (DDD) and Stratasys (SSYS), or on the minutiae of politics and economic policy, the reason for the present recovery can be explained in one word: energy.

Oil production has doubled in the last three years in both North Dakota's Bakken shale and Texas' Eagle Ford shale, to nearly 500,000 barrels/day each. Natural gas production in the Appalachians' Marcellus Shale has more than tripled in the last four years, to over 6 billion cubic/feet per day, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA). 

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