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Moving Beyond Petroleum

BP's Gulf disaster has ETF investors looking beyond oil to other plays in the energy space, including natural gas.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- ETF investors are moving beyond petroleum in the wake of the Gulf disaster, with natural gas funds such as First Trust ISE Revere Natural Gas (FCG) - Get First Trust Natural Gas ETF Report leading the way.

Before the disaster in the Gulf,


(BP) - Get BP p.l.c. Report

was using its initials in a "Beyond Petroleum" marketing campaign that played up its push into renewable energy.

Now, in addition to the disaster in the Gulf, the company and its competitors are suffering from a decline in oil prices and difficulty in the alternative energy space, where European budget problems have hurt the heavily subsidized sector.

Video: BP Watch: Day 56 >>

While energy ETFs are broadly lower in the past month, one bright spot is natural gas. Investors are becoming more optimistic after a rise in prices has lifted gas ETFs such as

U.S. Natural Gas

(UNG) - Get United States Natural Gas Fund Report


U.S. 12 Month Natural Gas

(UNL) - Get United States 12 Month Natural Gas Fund Report


I advise investors not to invest in these ETFs, since they track futures prices and suffer from contango, but UNL is superior to UNG if that's the route you want to take.

The natural gas explorers and producers are also moving higher, with FCG showing a small gain in the past month, versus losses for a whole host of oil ETFs such as

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TheStreet Recommends

iShares Dow Jones U.S. Energy

(IYE) - Get iShares U.S. Energy ETF Report

. One fund doing better than the oil group of ETFs, but behind FCG, is the natural gas heavy

iShares Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Exploration & Production

(IEO) - Get iShares U.S. Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF Report


Individual investors aren't the only ones bidding up natural gas assets.

Royal Dutch Shell


spent $4.7 billion at the end of May to purchase a private Pennsylvania firm with shale gas properties. One of the investors in that firm was KKR, and it's rolling over its profits into another shale gas play in southern Texas.

Producers are stepping up production as well, with

Baker Hughes


reporting an increase in the rig count.

In addition to the improvement in natural gas prices and the value of assets in the sector, the political climate may also improve. Natural gas has a number of features that make it favorable as a political issue.

For environmentalists, it emits less carbon than oil and coal, and after the BP disaster, it's a plus that gas is mainly obtained via land drilling. There's some concern about potential ground water contamination from the fracking techniques used in shale gas drilling, but oil and coal extraction are not without their own problems.

For the national security and trade balance crowd, the vast majority of natural gas supplies are produced domestically. In most cases, replacing oil with natural gas (or coal) means replacing a foreign source of energy with a domestic source.

Also working in favor of natural gas is the fact that, at least for now, natural gas is cheaper than oil. The ratio of oil to natural gas prices was about 11 in 2008 before the financial crisis, but climbed to 24 last year as oil prices rallied and gas prices tumbled, before working its way down from that extreme. With oil prices down in the past month and natural gas prices up, the ratio has moved to 15.5, still on the high side.

Investors are always looking for the next big thing and that often leads them to alternative energy stocks and ETFs such as

Claymore/MAC Global Solar Energy

(TAN) - Get Invesco Solar ETF Report


Solar and other alternative technologies have great promise, but the reality is that they're still not fully competitive. Meanwhile, natural gas can be deployed in the next few years to meet America's energy needs. Investors looking to profit from a broader move beyond petroleum should first look to natural gas.

-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.

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At the time of publication, Dion Money Management was not long any equities mentioned.

Don Dion is president and founder of

Dion Money Management

, a fee-based investment advisory firm to affluent individuals, families and nonprofit organizations, where he is responsible for setting investment policy, creating custom portfolios and overseeing the performance of client accounts. Founded in 1996 and based in Williamstown, Mass., Dion Money Management manages assets for clients in 49 states and 11 countries. Dion is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts and Maine and has more than 25 years' experience working in the financial markets, having founded and run two publicly traded companies before establishing Dion Money Management.

Dion also is publisher of the Fidelity Independent Adviser family of newsletters, which provides to a broad range of investors his commentary on the financial markets, with a specific emphasis on mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. With more than 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and 29 other countries, Fidelity Independent Adviser publishes six monthly newsletters and three weekly newsletters. Its flagship publication, Fidelity Independent Adviser, has been published monthly for 11 years and reaches 40,000 subscribers.