In the Reference case, global natural gas production steadily increases, growing by approximately 30% between 2020 and 2050. Before that, natural gas production grew by 25% between 2010 and 2020, with the aid of new recovery techniques and expanded infrastructure. Projected growth in global natural gas demand and the expansion of processing and transportation infrastructure around the world drives growth in natural gas production to 2050.
In addition, demand from the industrial sector—for both natural gas and NGPLs—supports growth in natural gas production, while growth is more limited in the electric power, transportation, and residential and commercial sectors. Although use of natural gas for electric power generation increased by almost 30% from 2010 to 2020, this growth will likely plateau in 2030. The role of natural gas in the electric power sector has become increasingly complex because of economic and policy trends that favor renewable energy.
Some future growth in natural gas production will likely coincide with crude oil production growth because crude oil production from low permeability, tight rock formations produces associated-dissolved natural gas (also called associated gas) which, in some areas, is captured and processed.
The United States, Russia, and the Middle East are currently the largest producers of natural gas. In the Reference case, all three will continue to expand production throughout the projection period, and the United States will remain the largest producer worldwide, producing almost 43 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2050.
The United States, Russia, and the Middle East all have large proven reserves of both natural gas and oil, along with the accompanying processing and transportation infrastructure to support steady production levels. In addition to meeting domestic demand, growing production in these regions serves growing demand for natural gas in the global market. The three largest producing regions all export more natural gas than they import; their exports go to key regions in Europe and Asia, where demand is greater than domestic supply. We project that the demand for natural gas from these regions grows further. The United States’ and Russia’s natural gas production grows by about 10 Tcf between 2020 and 2050 in the Reference case. Middle East natural gas production grows by about 5 Tcf over the same period.
In the Reference case, Russia, the United States, and the Middle East will all grow as net exporters throughout the projection period to provide natural gas to European and Asian markets. Russia, in particular, shows the most growth in net exports, more than doubling over the projection period to remain the largest net exporter of natural gas through 2050 at more than 14 Tcf. Because it is near Europe, China, and the rest of non-OECD Asia, Russia’s net natural gas exports will grow through established pipeline infrastructure, potential future pipeline additions, and liquefied natural gas exports. The United States also shows rapid growth in net exports over the next 10 years, as it continues to expand its LNG infrastructure and produce natural gas at high volumes. LNG terminals and transportation vessels facilitate the overseas transport of natural gas between regions that are not connected by pipeline, creating an outlet for natural gas produced in the United States and the Middle East to reach overseas markets where it is in the highest demand.
In 2020, OECD Europe was the largest importer of natural gas, followed by Japan, South Korea, and non-OECD Asia. All of these regions are net importers due to their limited domestic supply of natural gas relative to their growing demand. These regions remain the largest natural gas export destinations through the projection period.
In the Reference case, both non-OECD Asia and OECD Europe increase their use of imported natural gas, and non-OECD Asia grows to become the largest net importer of natural gas by 2050—driven by continued economic growth in China and India. Net imports of natural gas into China, India, and other non-OECD Asian nations more than triple by 2050. Supply of natural gas in these markets arrives both via pipeline and as LNG exports from Russia. The regions also receive LNG exports from regions such as the United States, the Middle East, Australia, and Africa.
The United States will remain the largest natural gas producer worldwide to serve growing demand in the natural gas global market.