Buoyed by increased liquefaction production capacity, new export facilities, and buyers in Asia, the US now ranks third among global LNG exporters
When the data is finalised for 2019, the United States is expected to rank behind Australia and Qatar as the world’s third largest LNG exporter, shipping an estimated 34.4M tonnes of LNG to overseas buyers.
Supported by abundant supplies of shale gas and growing liquefaction capacity, the US has experienced a meteoric rise to the top that started with the first commercial LNG cargo shipped from Cheniere’s Sabine Pass in Louisiana in 2016. In back-to-back months, the US set records, shipping 52 cargoes averaging 5.8Bn ft3 per day (bcfd) in October and 55 cargoes, averaging 6.3 bcfd in November, according to the US Energy Information Administration (US EIA).
Since Cheniere’s historic cargo in February 2016 to November 2019, the US has exported 1,093 cargoes, totalling 3,569.2 bcf of natural gas from five LNG export terminals. This equates roughly to 74.3M tonnes of LNG. ISO tank containers shipped to Barbados, the Bahamas and Haiti represent less than 0.1% of exports and are not included in the totals.
The five LNG export facilities – Sabine Pass, Corpus Christi LNG in Texas, Cove Point LNG in Maryland, Cameron LNG in Louisiana and Freeport LNG in Texas – are all adding production capacity over the next two years. Cameron LNG commissioned its first train in May and Freeport LNG in September, while a sixth LNG export terminal, Elba Island LNG in Savannah, Georgia, shipped its first commercial cargo in October.
|Who is buying US LNG?|
|(Feb 2016-Nov 2019)|
|East Asia & Pacific||36.50%|
|Europe & Central Asia||24.40%|
|Middle East & North Africa||6.30%|
|Latin America & Caribbean||26.50%|
|Source: US DOE|
Freeport LNG started production from its second train in December. Freeport, Cameron, and Elba Island are expected to place additional trains in service in 2020, increasing US LNG production capacity to 8.9 bcfd by year’s end. A third train at Corpus Christi in 2021 will expand capacity further to 9.5 bcfd. As a result, US EIA estimates that US LNG exports will rise from an average of 5.0 bcfd in 2019 to 6.5 bcfd in 2020 to 7.7 bcfd in 2021.
Additional future production capacity could well come from the second wave of US LNG export facilities. Among the 13 LNG export projects approved in the US but not yet under construction, Magnolia LNG export terminal in Lake Charles, Louisiana, has applied for authorisation to increase its production capacity from 8 mta to 8.8 mta. Magnolia LNG says the increased LNG production capacity would be achieved through the optimisation of the facility’s final design.
Since February 2016, US LNG cargoes have found ready buyers in Asia, with South Korea, Japan and China accounting for 33.9% of exports. This is despite China not purchasing any US LNG cargoes since April 2019. With a Phase 1 deal easing some of the trade tension between the two nations, China has promised to make US$52Bn in energy purchases from the US over the next two years. The 25% tariff on US LNG, however, remains in place.