Just a decade ago the United States was busy constructing liquified natural gas (LNG) import facilities along our Gulf coast, and now the country is looking at how we might remake ourselves into a natural gas exporter. There are few better examples of the transformative power of the shale revolution than this about-face on our natural gas trade balance, and as the EIA reports, momentum is building for our quest to sell our LNG abroad:
The Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana became the first operating LNG export facility in the Lower 48 states in 2016. By 2021, four LNG export facilities currently under construction are expected to be completed. Combined, these five plants are expected to have an operational export capacity of 9.2 billion cubic feet per day. After 2021, projected U.S. exports of LNG grow at a more modest rate as U.S. natural gas faces growing competition from other global LNG suppliers.
The U.S. imported more gas than we exported last year, and that’s to be expected. After all, it’s barely been 13 months since exports started departing our first operational export terminal in Louisiana. But we should note than in all but the rosiest projections, America will continue to be a net importer of natural gas over the next twenty-plus years.
That said, our hydrocarbon balance sheet is looking a lot better, thanks to fracking. Those net imports are declining year over year and will continue to do so as more LNG export facilities come online. An increase in natural gas exports doesn’t just shore up our energy security, it also gives domestic natural gas producers—those companies employing horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing to pull gas out of shale rock formations—another outlet to sell that flood of new supplies.