5 Best Oil and Gas ETFs by 2024 Performance

ETFs tracking oil’s price are beating the S&P 500 while natural gas lags.

kent
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Research Lead
Reviewed by: etf.com Staff
,
Edited by: Ron Day

Middle East tensions, the Ukraine war and ongoing supply cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are supporting higher prices for crude oil in 2024.  

The largest oil ETF, the United States Oil Fund LP (USO) is up nearly 17% in 2024, and the broader market is up just under 10%, as measured by the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY)

Meanwhile, a milder-than-expected winter and the U.S. Department of Energy’s pause on natural gas exports has pushed natural gas prices down 26% year-to-date, as measured by the United States Natural Gas Fund LP (UNG)

With multiple performance variables affecting a wide range of oil and gas subsectors in 2024, now is a good time to review the different types of funds available in the energy space, as well as a list of the best performing oil and gas ETFs in 2024.  

What Is an Oil & Gas ETF?

An oil & gas ETF is an exchange-traded fund that is designed to provide exposure to the oil and gas industry. These ETFs are specifically focused on tracking the performance of companies involved in the exploration, production, refining, marketing and distribution of oil and natural gas.  

Oil & gas ETFs offer investors an efficient way to gain exposure to the energy sector without having to purchase individual stocks of oil and gas companies.  

Types of Oil & Gas ETFs

Oil & gas ETFs come in various types, each designed to provide exposure to different segments of the oil and gas industry.  

Here are some common types of oil & gas ETFs with examples:  

  • Broad energy sector ETFs: These ETFs provide exposure to the entire energy sector, including both oil and natural gas companies, as well as renewable energy companies. They offer a diversified approach to the energy industry. The largest energy ETF is the Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLE).  
  • Oil ETFs: Oil-specific ETFs typically track the price of oil by holding futures contracts on crude oil. The largest oil ETF of this kind is the United States Oil Fund LP (USO).  
  • Natural gas ETFs: These ETFs concentrate on companies involved in the natural gas industry, including exploration, production and distribution. The largest natural gas ETF is the United States Natural Gas LP (UNG).  
  • Oil services ETFs: Oil services ETFs track companies that provide services and equipment to the oil and gas industry. These companies include drilling contractors, rig operators, oilfield services providers and equipment manufacturers. An example of an oil service ETF is the VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (OIH).  
  • Leveraged and inverse oil & gas ETFs: Some ETFs use leverage or inverse strategies to provide magnified or inverse exposure to the daily price movements of the oil and gas sector. Leveraged ETFs aim to amplify returns, while inverse ETFs aim to provide the opposite performance of the sector. These ETFs are typically designed for short-term trading and are not suitable for all investors due to the risks involved. Examples include the ProShares Ultra Oil & Gas ETF (DIG) and the ProShares UltraShort Oil & Gas ETF (DUG).  
  • Master limited partnership (MLP) ETFs: MLP ETFs provide exposure to energy infrastructure companies organized as master limited partnerships. These entities are involved in the transportation, storage and processing of energy commodities, including oil and natural gas. The largest MLP ETF is the Alerian MLP ETF (AMLP).  
  • Exploration and production ETFs: These ETFs specifically focus on companies involved in the exploration and production of oil and natural gas reserves. They may exclude other segments of the energy industry, such as refining or services. An example an oil and gas exploration ETF is the iShares U.S. Oil & Gas & Exploration ETF (IEO).  

List of Top Performing Oil & Gas ETFs in 2024

TickerFundExpense RatioAUMYTD Return
UGAUnited States Gasoline Fund0.97%$121.0M17.40%
USOUnited States Oil Fund 0.60%$1.4B16.67%
BNOUnited States Brent Oil Fund1.00%$135.9M15.71%
OILKProShares K-1 Free Crude Oil Strategy ETF0.71%$140.3M13.30%
USLUnited States 12 Month Oil Fund0.85%$65.3M12.00%

Data as of March 25, 2024.

How to Choose the Best Oil & Gas ETFs

When evaluating an oil & gas ETF for investment, investors should conduct thorough research and analysis to assess whether the ETF aligns with their investment goals, risk tolerance, and overall portfolio strategy.  

Here are key factors to analyze for choosing the best oil ETFs for your portfolio:  

  • Review the ETF’s objective and strategy: Understand whether the ETF invests in equities, futures contracts, or other derivatives. Does it track oil and gas companies, energy infrastructure, or a broader energy sector?  
  • Identify the underlying index or benchmark: Assess the ETF’s underlying benchmark index composition, methodology, and relevance to the oil and gas sector.  
  • Examine the holdings: Understand which companies and assets the ETF includes, and that the ETF provides exposure to the segment of the oil and gas industry you're interested in. Check the top holdings and their weights within the ETF. A concentrated position in a few stocks can increase risk.  
  • Analyze performance history: Review ETF’s historical performance over different time frames and compare them to its benchmark index.  
  • Look for lower expense ratio: Assess the ETF's expense ratio, which represents the annual fees and costs associated with the fund. Lower expense ratios can be more cost-effective for investors.  
  • Evaluate liquidity: Examine the ETF’s average trading volume and bid-ask spread. Higher liquidity generally leads to tighter spreads and better execution prices.  
  • Review dividends and yields: If income is a consideration, check whether the ETF pays dividends. Understand the dividend yield and its historical consistency.  
  • Understand risk factors: Consider the risks associated with the oil and gas sector, including commodity price volatility, regulatory changes, geopolitical events and environmental concerns. Assess how the ETF mitigates risk, such as through diversification or the use of derivatives.  
  • Consider taxes: Understand the tax implications of investing in the ETF, including potential capital gains distributions and tax treatment of dividends. For example, many MLP ETFs are taxed as corporations, meaning investors pay taxes on distributions when the ETF itself sells holdings or pays out dividends, even if the investor reinvests those distributions. 

What Is Upstream vs Downstream Oil ETFs?

Upstream and downstream are two distinct segments of the oil and gas industry, and there are ETFs that specifically target each of these segments. Here's an explanation of upstream and downstream oil ETFs:  

Upstream Oil ETFs

Upstream activities in the oil and gas industry involve the exploration, drilling, and production of crude oil and natural gas. Upstream companies are responsible for finding and extracting these hydrocarbons from the ground. An example of an upstream oil ETF is the SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (XOP).  

Downstream Oil ETFs

Downstream activities in the oil and gas industry involve the refining, processing and distribution of crude oil and natural gas products. Downstream companies take the raw materials produced by upstream activities and convert them into finished products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and petrochemicals. An example of a downstream oil ETF is theVanEck Vectors Oil Refiners ETF (CRAK)

Outlook for Oil and Natural Gas ETFs in 2024

Oil ETFs that track the price of crude oil may be more likely to rise than fall in 2024. Middle East tensions and the war in Ukraine are not expected to resolve in the short term and OPEC’s supply cut may continue to support higher prices for oil through midyear. Lower supply tends to push oil prices higher, especially when demand remains strong.  

That said, if a recession begins to look more likely in 2024, oil prices could come back down in anticipation of lower demand.  

Several factors are contributing to the underperformance of natural gas ETFs in 2024. Milder weather, large stockpiles, and increased competition in the liquified natural gas (LNG) market have all tempered demand and potentially led to a decline in natural gas prices.  

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report that “an unprecedented surge in new LNG projects is set to tip the balance of markets and concerns about natural gas supply” from 2025 to 2027. 

While oil and gas ETFs can offer exposure a range of segments within the growing energy sector, investors should be cautious due to potential price volatility caused by geopolitical issues and fluctuating demand. 

Kent Thune is Research Lead for etf.com, focusing on educational content, thought leadership, content management and search engine optimization. Before joining etf.com, he wrote for numerous investment websites, including Seeking Alpha and Kiplinger. 

 

Kent holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and is a practicing Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) with 25 years of experience managing investments, guiding clients through some of the worst economic and market environments in U.S. history. He has also served as an adjunct professor, teaching classes for The College of Charleston and Trident Technical College on the topics of retirement planning, business finance, and entrepreneurship. 

 

Kent founded a registered investment advisory firm in 2006 and is based in Hilton Head Island, SC, where he lives with his wife and two sons. Outside of work, Kent enjoys spending time with his family, playing guitar, and working on his philosophy book, which he plans to publish in the coming year.