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April 1, 2011

U.S. natural gas imports fall for third year in a row

U.S. net imports of natural gas have fallen for three consecutive years, due largely to growing domestic production from shale gas formations. Between 2007 and 2010, annual net imports declined by about 1.2 trillion cubic feet, or nearly one-third. Net imports by pipeline account for over 80% of total net imports and come entirely from Canada (the United States is a net exporter to Mexico). Net pipeline imports fell by 28%. Net imports in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) were down nearly 50%.

Natural gas net imports began to increase significantly in the mid-1980s as domestic production failed to keep pace with consumption. The import share of total U.S. natural gas consumption rose from less than 5% in 1986 to over 16% in 2001. While net natural gas imports for 2010 were down only slightly compared to 2009, they accounted for less than 11% of the total U.S. natural gas consumption, the lowest level since 1992.

The decline in LNG net imports occurred despite the commissioning of additional regasification terminals. Three onshore regasification terminals in the United States now have licenses to re-export LNG (redeliver LNG that was off-loaded into a regasification terminal): Cameron, Freeport, and Sabine Pass.

U.S. shale gas production more than tripled between 2007 and 2010, and its share of total domestic natural gas consumption increased from about 5% to over 20%.