Three Cheers for High Oil Prices

Updated from 6:00 a.m. EDT to include a correction.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In many ways the current recovery is a lot like the last one. Housing is a theme. Banking is a theme. To some extent technology is a theme. The Fed is pumping a lot of money into the economy, and thus the value of assets, priced in money, goes up.

But in one very important respect this recovery is very different. Back in the 2000s, a rise in the price of oil could stop economic growth in its tracks. This time, it's a sign of growth.

That's because the U.S. is now producing more of its own energy than at any time in decades. Natural gas remains in glut and is priced at a fraction of the world price, benefiting American manufacturers of all kinds. Oil that isn't used here is increasingly turned into refined products and exported, meaning it generates even more than the $108/barrel it fetches when it's brought up to the surface.

All this oil and gas is making some Americans very wealthy. Landowners in Texas are driving shiny new pick-ups. ( They almost ran over my Scion last time I was there, and I think they were laughing when they did it.)

It's especially important to note this fact now, with West Texas Intermediate oil, the U.S. standard for crude, having nearly eliminated the spread between it and Brent North Sea oil, generally seen as the world price. At almost $108/barrel, you're talking about $2.57 per gallon of oil. If you're getting a royalty on production in Texas' Eagle Ford shale, that could be $24.30 in your pocket for each 42-gallon barrel.

You can get into this game right now by buying oil exploration stocks. Southwestern Energy ( SWN) recently had its estimates raised by Sterne Agee, and the stock is up almost 25% this year. EOG Energy ( EOG) is also up over 26% this year.

Many income investors are playing in this sector through Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs). MLPs are meant to extract value from oil-related assets, and have some tax advantages. Among those I've written about this year are Kinder Morgan Partners ( KMP), which is yielding 6.4% per year in dividends at current prices.

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