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'Unprecedented' NatGas Output Cuts U.S. Imports

With domestic natural gas production reaching an "unprecedented" level, net imports of gas into the United States in 2012 fell 23% while total gas exports increased about 8%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

According to the EIA, net imports totaled around 1,516 Bcf in 2012, the lowest level since 1990. Net imports, as a percentage of total gas consumed, was about 6% in 2012, down from 8% in 2011. The agency said a combination of both higher exports and lower imports led to the net import decline, with preliminary data showing domestic dry gas production increasing about 5% in 2012, to 24,063 Bcf.

Gross natural gas imports decreased by about 10% in 2012, falling to 3,135 Bcf, the lowest level since 1998. EIA said last year, most (about 94%) of the 2,961 Bcf imported by the United States came via pipeline from Canada and Mexico. Canadian imports were off about 5% from 2011 (to 2,960 Bcf), while Mexican imports fell 88% (to 0.3 Bcf).

"Pipeline imports from Canada have decreased almost every year since 2007," the EIA said, but that the trend didn't apply to all U.S. regions. "Natural gas imports from Canada [to] the eastern part of the United States decreased significantly in 2012 due to increased natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale region in the Northeast, which displaced natural gas imports from Canada."

LNG imports fell by half last year to 175 Bcf, the lowest level since 1999. LNG imports from Qatar and Trinidad and Tobago made up about 84% of the total. Domestic gas exports were an entirely different matter. According to the EIA, total exports increased by about 8% to 1,619 Bcf in 2012, a new high, driven by an 11% increase in pipeline exports, according to EIA. The growth also helped offset a 42 Bcf decrease in LNG exports and re-exports.

Pipeline exports accounted for 98% of total gas exports from the United States. Pipe exports to Canada increased 4% (to 971 Bcf) and increased 24% to Mexico (to 620 Bcf), the latter a record high (see NGI, July 22).

However, LNG exports in 2012 fell 43% to about 9 Bcf. Most of the LNG exported was bound for Japan, but exports fell overall because of "limited natural gas supply from the mature North Cook Inlet gas field for liquefaction in Kenai, AK," the EIA said. "The Kenai LNG terminal was scheduled to close in 2011 but ConocoPhillips, owner of the terminal, resumed operation because of new natural gas demand from Japan." Re-exports of LNG last year fell 65% to about 19 Bcf. According to the EIA, "decreased LNG imports likely contributed to lower LNG re-exports."

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