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Crude oil prices increased as growing economy resulted in global petroleum demand rising faster than petroleum supply. Concept of crude oil production, petroleum industry or petrodollar, world economy

How to invest in oil

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Updated: February 29, 2024

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You can invest in oil, like stocks and other securities, through your brokerage account.

There are also a few more advanced ways to invest in this global commodity. And, depending on your investing goals and risk tolerance, some options might be superior to others. Here's what you need to know if you're looking to invest in oil.

The short version

• The oil industry has been historically lucrative for investors.

• You can invest in oil by buying energy ETFs & mutual funds, investing in MLPS, buying stock in an oil and gas company, or trading oil options and futures.

• If you're concerned about the ethical implications of fossil fuels, consider investing in renewable energy.

Why consider investing in oil?

Oil is one of the most important driving forces of the economy. It enables shipping and transportation. It powers factories and, most likely, your car. Oil companies will continue to remain near the top of the list of the most valuable businesses in the world, even when oil prices falter over concerns about the impact of political events or pandemics.

If you want a slice of the profits from the lucrative oil and gas industry, you have a handful of choices for putting this precious resource in your portfolio.

How to invest in oil

It's effortless to buy the stock of an oil or gas company using a brokerage account. Because these and other big oil companies trade on the major stock exchanges, you can buy and sell shares with no transaction fees. To do that, you need an account with one of the popular brokerages such as Ally Invest.

This is one of the more straightforward ways to invest in oil. But there are several other options at your disposal.

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1. Invest in energy ETFs and mutual funds

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds allow you to buy a basket of investments in one purchase. There are many funds to choose from in this arena. Some give you exposure to a set of stocks or oil and gas commodities. But others focus on particular regions or types of oil.

Some of the top energy index fund that you can invest in include the following:

  • Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLE)
  • Vanguard Energy Index Fund (VDE)
  • Fidelity MSCi Energy Index ETF (FENY)
  • SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Equipment & Services ETF (XES)

Again, pretty much any online broker will let you trade various ETFs without paying commissions. And there are plenty of great brokers for mutual funds that have many no-transaction-fee (NTF) funds to choose from.

Just note that while stocks are going up and down with the company's performance and expected results, commodities are generally considered riskier than stocks. When you read that oil prices are going up or down, the oil commodities are what they are talking about.

2. Buy stock in an oil and gas company

If you want to invest in oil with little money, your brokerage account is probably the best place to look. With the new advent of no-fee stock trades at big brokerage houses, you can buy shares of stock without worrying about fees cutting into your investment.

Some brokers allow you to buy fractional shares, which means you don't even need the cash to buy a full share. M1 is an excellent broker to get started with fractional shares (here's our full M1 review).

If you think oil prices are on their way up, investing in oil and related companies can be a smart move.

Top oil companies you can buy shares from include:

  • ExxonMobil (XOM)
  • Shell Plc (SHEL)
  • Chevron (CVX)
  • BP (BP)
  • TotalEnergies SE (TTE)

Investing in oil companies directly gives you exposure to the energy market without having to buy oil directly.

However, as with all investments, ensure you understand the potential gains and risks before clicking the “buy” button.

3. Trade oil options and futures

Expert and professional investors often look to options and futures to earn a profit in the commodities markets, among others. And since crude oil is obviously a massive commodity, you can also invest in oil by trading options and futures.

However, if you don't know much about options or futures, make sure to sit down and study before diving in. This type of investment is extremely risky if you don't know what you're doing. Even if you do, there's a good chance you'll lose money trading options and futures, so be fully aware of the risks when going in.

And pricing crashes can happen. Take 2020, for example, when U.S. oil prices briefly went negative. Many investors lost a lot of money in this period, particularly those trading futures on the losing side.

Image courtesy of the BBC.

And just like investing in oil ETFs or mutual funds, starting with options or futures is straightforward. Most brokerage firms dropped the base fee for options trades in 2019, but you'll still pay around $0.50 to $0.75 per contract. Some investment apps like Robinhood offer commission-free options, and Interactive Brokers is also an excellent broker. As for futures contracts, they typically cost around $1 to $2 each.

This can give you direct investment exposure to oil. When prices go up and down, so will your investment. Depending on your brokerage, you may need additional approval for options trading.

Again this isn't for people wanting to know how to invest in oil with little money. It's best for people who have significant assets. You should invest only what you can afford to lose if things don't work out as expected.

4. Invest in MLPs

“MLP” stands for Master Limited Partnership. This is one of the more direct options for those who want to know how to invest in oil wells. An MLP is a type of business entity that's publicly traded, like a stock. But there are some key differences to understand.

MLPs give you the tax benefits of a private partnership. This means you pay taxes only on distributions. But you can buy and sell with the liquidity of a public company. Investors are considered “partners,” although most investors don't have an active role in the venture.

MLPs are best for investors looking to earn cash flow from their investments. They're not as volatile as commodities in many cases. But they have some unique tax reporting rules, and don't usually appreciate all that much. This makes them more of a niche investment than regular oil stocks.

My personal experience investing in oil

In January 2016, oil and gas prices and stocks looked to be at a low point. After a quick chat, my wife and I decided it was a good time to buy into oil and gas. We chose to do so through a semi-diversified purchase of three stocks.

We purchased shares of Chevron (CVX), ConocoPhillips (COP), and ExxonMobil (XOM) and still hold them in our joint portfolio. Since we first invested in these companies, we've received a trickle of cash flow from the stocks' dividends. If you add up the performance of all three stocks, we have a nice little gain in our portfolio.

But over the last few years, we've seen massive shifts in the price of oil. The coronavirus outbreak brought global air travel to a halt and closed businesses. But currently, the Russia-Ukraine war has sent oil prices skyrocketing worldwide.

If anything, this price volatility highlights the potential risks and rewards of investing in oil. If you time it right, it can be an incredibly lucrative commodity. But it's also so important that global events can have a massive, unforeseen impact on prices and your investment.

Ethical issues surrounding oil drilling

Investors interested in ESG investing (environmental, social, and governance) might be concerned about the ethics of investing in oil companies. After all, fossil fuels are one the leading causes of CO2 emissions. Because greenhouse gas emissions like CO2 trap the sun’s heat on the earth's surface, they are one of the leading causes of climate change — an existential threat to our continued existence on this planet.

Investors who want to make a difference in their investments and are concerned about the climate risks posed by fossil fuels might not want to invest in oil companies. In fact, some large funds, such as public pension funds, are divesting from fossil fuels. The University of California, for example, removed all fossil fuel investments from its $126 billion investment portfolio in 2020. Many investors moving away from fossil fuels cited the concern over climate change and the environmental issues of oil drilling, such as oil spills and waste.

In some cases, oil companies are included in ESG funds. That’s because ESG doesn’t just consider climate; it includes diversity and how a company treats its employees. It’s also worth noting that oil companies are some of the most prominent investors in renewable energy. BP, for example, plans to slash its oil output by 40% and boost its energy from renewable sources by 50 gigawatts or the equivalent of the power produced by 50 nuclear plants.

While some investors might be okay with investing in an oil company, others might prefer to put their money elsewhere. Ultimately, whether you should invest in oil companies or not comes down to your ethics.

Sustainable alternatives to investing in oil

Oil investing isn’t the only way to invest in energy. Investors who want to get exposure to energy but don’t want to invest in companies that use fossil fuels could consider investing in more sustainable options like green energy.

Renewable energy companies, for example, create energy from natural sources that can replenish themselves, such as wind and solar. First Solar, for instance, is one of the leading solar panel makers in the world, while NextEra Energy is one of the most significant wind and solar energy producers and invests both in renewable energy and storage. However, energy levels can fall if the sun isn’t shining or water levels are low.

Nuclear energy is another common alternative to fossil fuels. Nuclear power is derived from splitting a uranium atom in a power station using nuclear fission. Since no fuel is burned, it has zero greenhouse gas emissions. However, nuclear energy can be hazardous and produces radioactive waste which can be challenging to dispose of properly. Some leading companies in the nuclear energy sector include Nuscale PowerCentrus Energy, and Cameco Corp.

Read more: Oil vs. renewable energy stocks: Which should you invest in today?

Pros and cons of investing in oil



  • Oil is a global, valuable commodity that isn't going anywhere anytime soon

  • You can invest in oil without much money thanks to fractional shares

  • Potential to earn dividend income from various oil ETFs and stocks



  • Might not line up with certain ESG investing values

  • Oil prices can be volatile and impacted by world events, especially geopolitical ones

Bottom line on investing in oil

Investing in oil can be lucrative, and you certainly have numerous options to get started. But, as mentioned, know that this commodity can have massive swings in price depending on geopolitical events and factors outside investors' control.

It's also worth mentioning that oil doesn't have to be your only energy investment. Clean energy stocks or renewable energy stocks are also exciting opportunities. And even more niche sectors, like solid-state battery stocks, could provide great returns.

Ultimately, it would help if you outlined your risk tolerance and overall goals before investing in oil and gas. But there's no reason part of your portfolio can't involve this commodity, as long as you do your research and understand the risks.

Oil investment and stock market oil stocks FAQs

  • What is the minimum investment required to start investing in oil?


    The minimum investment varies; it can be as low as the price of a single share for stocks or a few hundred dollars for ETFs. Futures might require thousands in margin.

  • How does geopolitical tension affect oil investments?


    Tensions can lead to volatility in oil prices, potentially affecting investments positively or negatively based on market dynamics.

  • What are the tax implications of investing in oil and gas?


    Investments can have complex tax implications, including benefits like deductions for MLPs or specific considerations for futures trading. Make sure you speak to your accountant about an tax implications of oil investment.

  • How do oil prices correlate with the performance of oil stocks or ETFs?


    There's a strong correlation, but other factors like company performance and sector trends also play roles so it's important to do your research for any stock you're looking to invest in.

  • What are the risks of investing in oil futures and options?


    High volatility and leverage can lead to significant gains or losses, requiring careful risk management, like all investments.

  • How do seasonal patterns affect oil prices and investment opportunities?


    Demand fluctuations, like increased travel in summer, can affect prices and investment opportunities.

M1 Finance Disclosure: This article is not financial advice. All investing involves risk, including the risk of losing the money you invest. Past performance does not guarantee future results. For informational purposes only and not a trade recommendation. All product and company names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.

Eric Rosenberg Freelance Contributor

Eric Rosenberg is a finance, travel and technology writer in Ventura, California. He is a former bank manager and corporate finance and accounting professional who left his day job in 2016 to take his online side hustle full time.


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