NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A number of companies both domestic and international are looking for ways to increase their exposure to the U.S. natural gas industry. Investors have a chance to get involved in this industry through a number of different avenues.

Picking which is best, however requires a careful eye.

An uptick in activity put the Texas Eagle Ford shale formation in the spotlight this week. Norwegian energy firm Statoil ( STO) (STO) and Talisman Energy ( TLM) announced a joint venture, while China's state-owned energy goliath CNOOC ( CEO) said it would spend over $2 billion to acquire a portion of Chesapeake Energy's ( CHK) stake in the region. CNOOC's deal marks that largest ever Chinese purchase of U.S. energy assets.

Two Funds Harness Natural Gas Potential

In the near term, winter is approaching quickly and natural gas prices could see an uptick as consumers crank up their thermostats to battle bitterly cold weather.

However, deals such as CNOOC's strengthen the industry's prospects for the longer term as well. As China and other emerging nations continue to develop at a rapid pace, it will become increasingly essential to look abroad for ways to quench their economies' near insatiable appetites for energy.

If CNOOC's foray into the U.S. shale industry is the start of a longer trend of foreign nations looking to North America as an important energy source, it could be a source for strength for natural gas producers.

Rather than using the troubled United States Natural Gas Fund ( UNG) to satisfy their natural gas fix, investors can invest in the growing interest in this industry using one of two products: the First Trust ISE Revere Natural Gas Fund ( FCG) or the Fidelity Select Natural Gas Fund ( FSNGX).

Both FCG and FSNGX provide investors with exposure to a diverse basket of companies heavily involved in the production of natural gas. While their goals are similar, the two funds have differences which make them appealing to two separate audiences.

Most noticeably are the differences between the two indexes. While both FCG's and FSNGX's underlying holdings include household natural gas names such as Chesapeake, FCG appears to dedicate an interestingly large amount of its portfolio to integrated oil majors. Meanwhile, FSNGX can be considered more of a pure play in natural gas production.

This summer, I highlighted FCG's dedication to oil majors after noticing that ExxonMobil ( XOM) accounted for a surprisingly large slice of the fund's index after purchasing XTO's natural gas business. The fund's index has since been rebalanced and Exxon's position has been decreased considerably. However, the fund continues to boast heavy exposure to diversified energy conglomerates.

Along with Exxon, firms such as Hess ( HES) and ConocoPhillip ( COP) represent considerable slices of the fund's total portfolio. Additionally, international energy players such as Total ( TOT), Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS.A) , BP ( BP), and Statoil are included in the fund's the index.

Aside from a minor position in Exxon, none of these firms highlighted above can be found within FSNGX's index.

Given the underlying make-up of these two funds, investors looking for specific access to the natural gas industry should look to the mutual fund option. Meanwhile, FCG is a better choice for investors who are bullish on natural gas as well as the broader global energy industry.

Over the past month, FCG's exposure to both dedicated natural gas producers and integrated oil giants has paid off. The ETF has managed to outperform its mutual fund competitor.

As we look ahead, natural gas will likely continue to be an exciting region of the markets to watch. Despite their differences, investors have a great chance to get in on the action using either FCG or FSNGX.

Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.

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

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