U.S. use of imported natural gas has dropped to its lowest level since 1994, according to a scorecard kept by the Department of Energy (DOE).

The U.S. market share held by pipeline exports from Canada and overseas tanker deliveries of liquefied natural gas (LNG) combined fell to 12% in 2009, reports the fossil energy office in the DOE’s gas regulatory activities bureau. The drop has reversed a 20-year trend of continuous growth in the gas trade that about tripled American use of foreign supplies from the 5-6% range in the early 1980s.

The import share of the U.S. market peaked at 16.5% in 2007 then took a sharp turn down in 2008 as U.S. production grew from new shale sources while economic recession eroded demand and Canadian supplies deteriorated. Although LNG traffic has grown, the main trading pattern remains unchanged.

“The gas trade with Canada dwarfs all other gas exchange combined,” DOE said, which tracks volumes and prices as part of its role in issuing U.S. import permits.

In 2009, pipeline exports from Canada of 3.33 Tcf were 87% of the 3.8 Tcf American import total. Southbound deliveries from Canada into the U.S. were down by 8.6% from 3.65 Tcf in 2008. Total U.S. imports from Canada, offshore suppliers and Mexico were down last year by 6% compared to 4.05 Tcf in 2008.

But the volume slippage was marginal compared to the damage that economic recession and supply growth inflicted on prices. Canadian gas fetched an average of US$4.05/MMBtu in 2009, down by 52% from the 2008 annual average border price of $8.42/MMBtu.

Northbound flows of U.S.-sourced gas into Canada surged, growing by 25% to 699.5 Bcf in 2009 from 558.6 Bcf in 2008. Prices for U.S. gas at the Canadian border averaged US$4.50/MMBtu last year, down 48% from $8.70/MMBtu in 2008.

U.S. imports of LNG rose by 28% to 452 Bcf in 2009 from 351.7 Bcf in 2008. The annual average LNG price fell by 54% to US$4.36/MMBtu last year from $9.52 in 2008. Despite last year’s growth, U.S. LNG imports remained well below the peak of 771 Bcf that they hit in 2007.

Within the LNG trade, Trinidad and Tobago continues to stand out as by far the biggest shipper to the United States. In 2009 the Caribbean supplier delivered 236.2 Bcf to U.S. ports, followed by 160.4 Bcf from Egypt, 29.3 Bcf from Norway, 13.3 Bcf from Nigeria and 12.7 Bcf from Qatar.

In 2008 Trinidad and Tobago delivered 266.8 Bcf of LNG to the U.S. followed by 54.8 Bcf from Egypt, 14.9 Bcf from Norway, 12 Bcf from Nigeria and 3.1 Bcf from Qatar.

While a host of Canadian suppliers participate in the international gas pipeline traffic, LNG deliveries are in few hands. While the DOE counts 13 companies as active in the overseas gas trade, two largely own the market.

BG LNG landed 173.6 Bcf in 2009, up from 144.6 Bcf in 2008. Distrigas imported 155.8 Bcf of LNG into the United States last year, down marginally from 165.3 in 2008. The next biggest LNG supplier to the U.S. is Norway’s Statoil ASA, which delivered 38.1 Bcf in 2009 and 20.4 Bcf in 2008.

©Copyright 2010Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.