Natural gas supply imports to the United States fell in 2006 as European and Asian markets offered higher prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and volumes available from Canada fell, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said. However, the government’s molecule counter enumerated global LNG liquefaction developments that will feed all markets, including the U.S.

“In 2006, net imports to the United States were 3,462 Bcf, a decrease of 150 Bcf, or 4.2%, from the previous year,” EIA said. “This decline in net imports was the first decline in three years and only the third decline in the past 20 years.”

Gross imports from Canada in 2006 declined by nearly 3%, or 110 Bcf, and LNG imports declined 7.6% from the 2005 level to 584 Bcf as flows followed higher prices in Asia and Europe. In addition, LNG came from only four countries — Trinidad and Tobago, Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria — compared with six in 2005.

The United States is the fourth largest LNG importer in the world behind Japan, South Korea and Spain. The 15 countries that currently export LNG hold about 33% of world gas reserves. The EIA sees the potential for U.S. LNG importation growth on a number of fronts:

“Although LNG imports currently represent only about 14% of total U.S. natural gas imports, the expectation of large-scale expansion of LNG supplies over the next few years, combined with a projected increased U.S. demand for natural gas (in part as a fuel for electric power generation) indicated substantial growth potential for LNG imports into the United States,” EIA said.

Whatever additional LNG that makes its way to the United States will find a surfeit of regasification capacity. “LNG import capacity was about 4.25 Bcf/d at the end of 2006 and about 5.3 Bcf/d at the end of 2007,” EIA said. “EIA projects that regasified natural gas sendout capacity of onshore facilities could grow to more than 10 Bcf/d by the middle of 2010, with about half of this sendout capacity from new terminals.”

“Given global LNG supply constraints, overall capacity utilization at the U.S. LNG import facilities is expected to remain below 50% through 2030,” EIA Administrator Guy Caruso said earlier this week (see related story).

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