NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The significant decline in oil prices hasn't spurred as much M&A activity as many investors might have expected. 

In the fourth quarter of 2014, a time when oil prices were more than 50% off summer highs, there was actually a decrease in M&A activity, Steve Goodman, head of energy at Egon Zehnder, said at the IHS Energy CERAWeek, a gathering of players in the energy field, in Houston.

Many management teams seem to be keeping some "dry powder" on hand so that when they feel comfortable, they'll have the financial resources to make their move, he explained. 

Goodman said it seems likely that private-equity funds will eventually start to make deals in the energy space, as some companies are likely to be in distress. 

Many private-equity managers like to make deals involving debt and it helps that interest rates are so low, Goodman said. Often private-equity players will swoop in and grab several assets, combine them together and sell the new entity at a later date for a profit. 

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United States Oil Fund ETF USO data by YCharts

The question is, from which industry will these deals come from? Investors have already seen Apache (APA - Get Report) shed some of its assets in Australia, while Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A - Get Report) snatched up BG Group for $69.6 billion. 

Goodman says deals are most likely to come in the exploration and production space, as major companies strive to reduce their cost basis, diversify their assets and expand their operations. 

There also seems to be good opportunities emerging in the oil-field-services industry, particularly in the upstream and midstream companies, Goodman observed, adding that shale-gas producers are also beginning to look attractive.

What investors need to realize is that the major oil and gas companies are aiming to set themselves up for the next 10 to 20 years. Managers have set their sights on the long term and are looking to improve their prospects down the road, he concluded. 

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.