Robust domestic gas production offset increased demand last year to yield a drop in total imports of natural gas during 2008, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last Friday.

The drop occurred despite a 2007-to-2008 increase in domestic consumption, EIA noted. Total exports to Mexico and Canada via pipeline and Japan via liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker were higher in 2008. Consequently, net imports to the United States fell more than 20% from 2007 totals to the lowest level since 1997.

“The decline in U.S. natural gas imports had a larger impact on LNG imports than Canadian pipeline imports. Given the ease of transporting gas to alternative markets, some LNG that historically landed in the United States went elsewhere in 2008,” EIA said.

Net imports only accounted for about 13% of U.S. consumption last year. In recent years net imports have represented about 16% of domestic consumption.

Consistent with domestically produced natural gas traded in the U.S. marketplace, annual import and export prices were both about 25% higher in 2008. Monthly prices peaked in July.

In 2008 there was a 9% decrease in net imports from Canada, but pipeline imports continued to account for the vast majority of U.S. gas imports. In 2008 Canadian imports accounted for 90% of imports.

Net LNG imports were down 58% from the records of 2007. Although LNG makes up a small percentage of the total U.S. imports, that share fell from 17% in 2007 to 9% in 2008. For the first time the United States imported a small amount of LNG from Norway in 2008. However, the number of countries supplying LNG to the United States declined with imports ceasing from Algeria and Equatorial Guinea. In 2008 LNG exports went primarily to Japan, after a small amount went to Russia in 2007.

According to Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities Inc., sendout from U.S. LNG regasification facilities averaged 0.9 Bcf/d last year, down sharply from 2.1 Bcf/d in 2007. However, sendout in the first quarter of this year averaged 1 Bcf/d, up from 0.8 Bcf/d during the year-ago period; and sendout during the second quarter of this year averaged 1.3 Bcf/d, up from 0.9 Bcf/d during the year-ago period. July sendout matched the year-ago period at 1.1 Bcf/d; August was up at 1 Bcf/d from 0.9 Bcf/d a year ago; and September so far has seen an average sendout of 1 Bcf/d, on track with the year-ago period.

EIA found that net exports via pipeline to Mexico were up 35% from 2007. The 2008 total is the third highest volume on record. Only in 2003 and 2004 were net Mexican exports higher.

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