Over the final week of 2018, U.S. feedgas for LNG exports surpassed 5 billion cubic feet per day for the first time ever. This is an increase of over 60% for the same time in 2017. LNG is now 4% of total U.S. gas needs and remains our largest incremental market going forward.
Bolstered by an easing of the trade war with China, the largest new gas user in the world (with nearly 15 regasification terminals scheduled to come on line 2020-2023), 2019 will be the “biggest year ever” for U.S. LNG. China was the third-largest buyer of U.S. LNG last year after Mexico and South Korea, despite having no off take agreements.
There are now three U.S. LNG export facilities: Sabine Pass (LA), Cove Point (MD), and Corpus Christi (TX), with the latter just recently began commissioning liquefaction trains in November. There will be six such sites by the end of 2019.
The first half of 2019 will a busy one for the U.S. LNG business. Green lighted final investment decisions for projects over the next six months could eventually inject $20-25 billion into the Gulf Coast region alone over the next four years. And over the next seven years, it is easy to see U.S. LNG gas export capacity exploding to 20-25 Bcf/d. That would be around a quarter of current U.S. gas output.
Truth be told, however, while U.S. gas prices have been their most volatile in around decade over the past 10 weeks, more and more LNG exports to meet growing needs abroad would mean more ups and downs in domestic prices. We know that as the most bullish domestic demand factor, U.S. LNG exports will put a floor under our own market. LNG exports will increasingly become a baseload demand market and are not going to be easy to simply shut off if our own prices rise.
The Industrial Energy Consumers of America has long worried about the potential for huge amounts of gas leaving the country to increase domestic prices, namely since low gas prices are a critical competitive advantage for U.S. manufacturing. “U.S. chemical investments linked to affordable gas surpass $200 billion,” and we just reported the best manufacturing jobs growth in the past 30 years.
Yet, we have a load of shale gas (and oil) to produce, with more affirmation reported in December: “Feds Discover Largest Oil, Natural Gas Reserve in History.” Moreover, LNG exports actually incentivize new domestic gas production especially since our own demand is growing but sometimes not at levels to help producers expand operations.
I must say that I see overregulation over exports as having the biggest potential to increase domestic gas prices. Listening to the rhetoric out there today, I remained convinced that some new and completely unnecessary regulation on gas production and/or transport in the name of “combating climate change” will inevitably be unleashed and increase U.S. gas prices.
This would be a major mistake that would play right into Russia’s gas exporting plans and actually reverse a huge amount of environmental progress that we have already made.
I therefore implore the new Congress to educate themselves, to be fully cognizant of a simple fact: thanks to fracking and the shale gas that it yields, U.S. CO2 emissions are dropping faster than any other nation. For example, the mighty Marcellus shale gas play in Pennsylvania – now responsible for ~30% of all U.S. gas output – has cut the state’s CO2 emissions by a whopping 30% in a decade.
And importantly, we are making such climate improvement without the crippling regulations that Europe has relied upon – with very little result.
As for the global LNG market, 2019 will see a rejuvenated boom after a slowdown in 2018. Buyers are now more willing to sign the long-term contracts that help export projects secure financing. LNG supply should surge 15% this year, with most of that coming from the U.S.
Some 70-80% of new gas demand in the world will be in Asia. There is an ongoing gasification push in the region that will increasingly mean more LNG imports. Sales into Northeast Asia hit a record in December, up 15% from November.
Now, however, uncertainty over global economic growth along with sunken oil prices (which lower prices for indexed LNG sellers) could delay or cancel final investment decisions for new LNG export projects around the world. This could potentially exacerbate a global LNG supply shortage already expected to occur within five years.