Opinion

United States has been a net exporter of natural gas for more than 12 consecutive months


monthly U.S. natural gas trade

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural Gas Monthly

U.S. net natural gas exports in February 2019 totaled 4.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), marking 13 consecutive months in which U.S. natural gas exports exceeded imports. The United States exports natural gas by pipeline to both Canada and Mexico and increasingly exports liquefied natural gas (LNG) to several other countries.

Although U.S. LNG exports have grown in recent years, most U.S. natural gas exports are sent by pipeline to neighboring Canada and Mexico. Natural gas exports to Canada tend to be seasonal, increasing in the winter months because of Canada's use of natural gas as a heating fuel in its more populous eastern provinces. In contrast, U.S. natural gas exports to Mexico are steadier, reflecting Mexico's use of natural gas for over half of its power generation and for industrial purposes.

U.S. exports by pipeline to Canada have risen since November 2018, when the second phase of the Rover pipelineand the NEXUS pipeline entered service. These two projects bring natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica plays in the Appalachian Basin to the Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada, near the St. Clair border crossing northeast of Detroit, Michigan. U.S. natural gas exports to Canada were 3.3 Bcf/d in February 2019, the highest on record. Overall, exports of natural gas by pipeline to Canada averaged 2.3 Bcf/d in 2018.

U.S. natural gas trade by pipeline by point of entry or exit
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural Gas Monthly
Note: Rio Grande / Roma point of exit includes Rio Grande, Roma, McAllen, Rio Bravo, Alamo, Hidalgo, and Penitas.

U.S. pipeline exports of natural gas to Mexico in 2018 averaged 5.2 Bcf/d, up from 4.2 Bcf/d in 2017. Much of the recent growth is attributed to increased U.S. exports out of the Permian Basin in western Texas as new pipelines were installed and as natural gas-fired power plant projects in Mexico entered service. Several existing pipeline expansions in southern Texas were completed during the past 12 months as well, increasing cross-border capacity.

U.S. LNG exports averaged 3.0 Bcf/d in 2018 and recently hit a high of 4.1 Bcf/d in January 2019. The volume of U.S. LNG exports rose steadily during 2018 as three new liquefaction units, called trains, entered service:

  • March: A single train at the Cove Point terminal in Maryland
  • November: Train 5 at the Sabine Pass terminal near the Louisiana-Texas border
  • December: Train 1 at the Corpus Christi terminal in southern Texas

These three trains have a combined capacity of 1.9 Bcf/d, bringing total U.S. LNG export nameplate capacity to 4.3 Bcf/d as of the end of 2018. LNG export volumes are expected to continue to rise in 2019 as an additional 4.0 Bcf/d of liquefaction capacity is brought online by the end of the year.

EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) forecasts that U.S. net natural gas exports will average 4.7 Bcf/d in 2019 and 7.5 Bcf/d in 2020, with most of the growth attributable to increases in LNG exports. However, pipeline exports of natural gas are also increasing. In three months of 2018 (September through November), the United States exported more natural gas than it imported by pipeline, in part because of the October 9, 2018 explosion on the Westcoast pipeline in British Columbia that led Canada to restrict natural gas imports into Sumas, Washington. According to STEO forecasts, the United States will become a net exporter of natural gas by pipeline on an annual basis in 2019.

monthly U.S. natural gas trade
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, April 2019



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