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Natural Gas Year-in-Review

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Imports and Exports

Net imports posted a steep decline in 2011, dropping from 7.1 Bcf/d to 5.3 Bcf/d. The decrease was the result of both expanded gross exports13 and reduced gross pipeline and LNG imports.

Pipeline Imports and Exports

Figure 11. Graph of 2011 monthly natural gas exports to Mexico and 5-year range (billion cubic feet per day)figure data

While gross pipeline imports fell significantly, from 9.1 Bcf/d in 2010 to 8.5 Bcf/d in 2011, they still served as a marginal source of supply during times of high natural gas demand or when U.S. pipelines were down for maintenance. For example, when Ruby Pipeline, which brings gas from the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast, went offline in December, imports from Canada to the West rose to about 3.0 Bcf/d, according to data from Bentek, up from around 2.5 Bcf/d earlier in the month.

Pipeline exports to Mexico increased substantially in 2011 (Figure 11). Mexico has focused on expanding natural gas-fired power generation in the past several years, and the country's Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad or CFE) has called for additional natural gas-fired generation. In its 2006-2016 outlook, the CFE forecasted increasing use of natural gas in the electric generation sector, as well as some growth in gas consumption in the industrial sector.14 These projected increases are combined with declining natural gas production from Mexico's national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). In 2011, Pemex's natural gas production declined 6 percent.15 While Mexico has LNG import capacity, low prices have made importing U.S. natural gas via pipeline an economically favorable option.

LNG imports and exports

LNG imports fell to 1.0 Bcf/d in 2011, a decline from the previous year's level of 1.2 Bcf/d. Strength in domestic natural gas production reduced the need for imports, and LNG cargoes were able to take advantage of higher prices at other international markets, including the United Kingdom, Japan and Belgium, where prices generally traded several dollars higher than at Henry Hub during the year. While there are eight LNG import terminals in the United States, only two (Everett Marine Terminal in Massachusetts and Elba Island in Georgia) received the vast majority of LNG cargoes, largely to fulfill long-term contract obligations. Everett also served as a marginal source of supply during cold snaps, when high Northeastern prices could attract international cargoes.

While LNG imports declined to modest levels, re-exports of LNG increased.16 Total re-exports in 2011 equaled 53.4 Bcf, compared to 34.5 Bcf in 2010 (both total about 0.1 Bcf/d).17 A total of 19 cargoes were re-exported, all from the Gulf Coast, with major destinations including India, Chile, China, and Brazil. An increasing spread between prices in the United States and around the world led to more cargoes being re-exported. In 2011, the United States exported a very small volume of LNG from a liquefaction terminal in Kenai, Alaska; the amount totaled 16.4 Bcf, or 0.04 Bcf/d, according to the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy. The terminal was slated to be idled in early 2011, but remained open until November. It primarily sent cargoes to Japan, which needed more natural gas for power generation following damage to the Fukushima nuclear power generator in the March 2011 earthquake. The terminal last sent a cargo in November 2011, and another in spring of 2012.

The combination of high global prices and low U.S. prices has led several companies to apply for permission to construct U.S. LNG liquefaction facilities to export domestically-produced natural gas. As of May 2012, the Office of Fossil Energy has received 14 applications to export LNG; only Sabine Pass has received authorization to export both to countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement and to those with which the United States does not have a free trade agreement.18,19 Most of the proposed terminals are located in the Gulf Coast area, including Sabine Pass, which has already signed several long-term export contracts and plans to begin exporting LNG by 2016. Exceptions include the Jordan Cove Energy Project, situated off the coast of Oregon, and Dominion's Cove Point facility, an existing import terminal located on the Chesapeake Bay south of Baltimore, Maryland.

 


Footnotes

13Gross exports are the sum of natural gas exports leaving the United States via pipeline to Canada and Mexico and the Kenai LNG terminal in Alaska.

16Re-exports occur when a terminal receives a cargo and sends it out to another destination. Typically, low utilization at these terminals has created available LNG storage capacity in the terminals' storage tanks. Re-exportation of LNG lets marketers and suppliers store gas, while waiting for price signals before delivering their LNG to the higher-paying markets in Asia, Europe, and South America.

17Information from DOE's Office of Fossil Energy; the 2010 report is available here: http://www.fe.doe.gov/programs/gasregulation/publications/Dec10LNG.pdf and the 2011 report is available here: http://www.fe.doe.gov/programs/gasregulation/publications/LNG_2011_rev.pdf

18A summary of applications and approvals is available here: https://eapps.fossil.energy.gov/app/fergas/DocketOrderList.go

19DOE issues permits separately to export to free-trade countries and non-free trade countries.