U.S. natural gas exports to grow with new LNG capacity start-ups

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) forecasts the United States to remain a net exporter of natural gas through 2021.

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In its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA said net natural gas exports are forecast to average 7.3 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2020 and 8.9 Bcf/d in 2021, a 3.6 Bcf/d increase from 2019.

In 2017, the United States became a net natural gas exporter on an annual basis for the first time in 60 years.

Strong natural gas export growth in recent years is mainly the result of increased exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). U.S. LNG exports averaged 5.0 Bcf/d in 2019, 2.0 Bcf/d higher than in 2018, as a result of several new facilities placing their first liquefaction units—referred to as trains—in service.

This year, several new trains are expected to begin operations: Trains 2 and 3 at Cameron LNG in Louisiana, Train 3 at Freeport LNG in Texas, and six remaining Moveable Modular Liquefaction System (MMLS) units (Trains 5–10) at Elba Island in Georgia, EIA said.

In 2021, the third train at the Corpus Christi facility in Texas is scheduled to come online, bringing the total U.S. liquefaction baseload capacity to 10.2 Bcf/d.

LNG exports are projected to continue to grow—averaging 6.5 Bcf/d in 2020 and 7.7 Bcf/d in 2021—as facilities gradually ramp up to full production.

EIA also forecasts that pipeline exports will continue to grow through 2021. Gross U.S. pipeline exports rise from 7.8 Bcf/d in 2019 to 8.1 Bcf/d in 2020 and to 8.5 Bcf/d in 2021.

U.S. pipeline exports to Mexico began increasing after expansions of cross-border pipeline capacity were completed. From January through October 2019, U.S. pipeline exports to Mexico averaged 5.1 Bcf/d, which is 0.5 Bcf/d higher than the 2018 annual average, according to EIA’s Natural Gas Monthly.

Although U.S. net natural gas pipeline imports from Canada have been steadily declining since 2016, the United States is projected to remain a net natural gas importer from Canada through the long-term because imports from Canada will remain a supply source for the United States during the winter.