U.S. net imports of natural gas fell 25% last year in the face of pushback from ballooning domestic supplies, thanks to the output of shale plays, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.

Total imports decreased by 8% to 3,456 Bcf in 2011. Pipeline and LNG imports decreased by 6% to 3,107 Bcf and by 19% to 349 Bcf, respectively. About 92% of U.S. natural gas imports arrived via pipeline from Canada and Mexico.

LNG imports decreased by 19% from last year’s level to 349 Bcf, the lowest level since 2002. LNG imports from Egypt, Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago, and Yemen comprised about 90% of total LNG imports. Lower LNG imports from Egypt, Nigeria, and Trinidad and Tobago accounted for most of the total decline in 2011.

Net imports as a percentage of gas delivered to consumers fell to about 8% last year, the agency said in a new report. The report was released last week but later revised to correct data discrepancies.

“A combination of both higher exports and lower imports led to a decline in net imports,” EIA said. Based on preliminary data for 2011, domestic dry natural gas production increased about 8% to 23,000 Bcf in 2011 while total natural gas delivered to consumers increased to a lesser degree, rising by just 2% during the same period,” the agency said.

Strong natural gas exports and lower imports reduced net imports to about 1,949 Bcf, the lowest level since 1992. Gross natural gas imports decreased by about 8% to 3,456 Bcf in 2011, the lowest level since 1998.

“This combination led to greater domestic natural gas supply and relatively low prices in the United States, thus reducing the U.S. reliance on foreign natural gas,” EIA said. “It also widened the price differential between Henry Hub and foreign markets outside of North America, making liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports more attractive than ever before.”

Total exports increased by 34% to 1,507 Bcf in 2011. Pipeline exports and LNG re-exports increased 34% to 1,436 Bcf and by 55% to 53 Bcf, respectively. LNG exports decreased by 41% to 18 Bcf. Growth in pipeline and LNG re-exports significantly exceeded the decline in LNG exports, EIA said.

Multiple parties have applied to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for authorization to export LNG to non-free trade agreement (FTA) countries and/or FTA countries. However, Sabine Pass Liquefaction LLC is the only entity to receive approval to export to both (see Daily GPI, July 13). DOE is awaiting the completion of a study of the impact of exports on domestic gas markets before authorizing anymore exports to non-FTA countries (see Daily GPI, June 22).

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