The U.S. Energy Information Administration has provided an analysis of natural gas imports and exports for 2011. ‘The Natural Gas Monthly” report notes that the preliminary estimate of U.S. natural gas average daily net imports’imports minus exports’was just over 5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcfd) in 2011, which was the lowest level since 1992). Net import declines are due to both lower imports and higher exports; U.S. net imports of natural gas peaked in August 2007 at 10 Bcfd, and have fallen markedly since.
The United States imports natural gas via pipelines from Canada and Mexico, and from tanker deliveries to liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. Some key points include:
The vast majority of U.S. natural gas imports arrive via pipeline from Canada. Significant increases in U.S. natural gas production have led to decreased U.S. demand for Canadian natural gas. Imports from Canada for 2011 were significantly below the previous five-year range, and have been lower for much of 2012 so far (some of this decline, however, can be attributed to warmer-than-usual weather across much of the United States).
LNG is the other main source of imported natural gas, however average daily deliveries from U.S. LNG terminals from January 1, 2012 through March 15, 2012 averaged 0.6 Bcf/d, down about 44% from a comparable period in 2011. Higher natural gas prices in competing markets abroad are attracting “spot” LNG cargoes that can be delivered under flexible pricing terms. LNG imports through U.S. terminals peaked in 2007 at over 2.1 Bcfd.
U.S. natural gas imports from Mexico are negligible, totaling just 2.7 Bcf, or about 7.3 million cubic feet per day in 2011. Imports from Mexico enter primarily through southern Texas and southeastern California.
U.S. exports of natural gas are up over the past decade. Some key factors underpinning the growth in exports are:
Domestic natural gas production is growing, primarily from shale gas formations. Some of this production is being shipped on pipelines into Canada and Mexico (see chart below).
Much of the growth in natural gas exports to Canada is due to increased deliveries on U.S. pipelines to natural gas storage facilities in Ontario.
Exports to Mexico reached a high in 2011, averaging almost 1.4 Bcfd for the year, exceeding the previous high of 1.1 Bcfd in 2004.
A similar EIA report notes that natural gas is not alone where imports and exports are concerned. The United States in 2011 exported more petroleum products, on an annual basis, than it imported for the first time since 1949, but American refiners still imported large, although declining, amounts of crude oil, according to full-year trade data from EIA’s ‘Petroleum Supply Monthly” February report. The increase in foreign purchases of distillate fuel contributed the most to the United States becoming a net exporter of petroleum products.
U.S. petroleum product net exports (exports minus imports) averaged 0.44 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2011, with imports at a nine-year low of close to 2.4 million bbl/d and exports at a record high of nearly 2.9 million bbl/d. The gap between exports and imports widened the most during the second half of the year from August through December, with total monthly exports topping 3 million bbl/d for the first time.
Strong global demand helped propel distillate exports, as distillate fuel, which includes diesel, had a higher profit margin for U.S. refiners than gasoline. Refiners also had access to increased supplies of crude oil imports from Canada, which in 2011 topped 2 million bbl/d for the first time, and from North Dakota’s Bakken formation to process into petroleum products.
The United States remained a net importer of crude oil, some of which was refined into petroleum products that were then exported. Petroleum products were ranked second in value of all U.S. exports during 2011 at $111.1 billion, up 60 percent from 2010, according to U.S. Department of Commerce trade data. Vehicles were the number one U.S. export last year at $132.5 billion. Crude oil was the biggest U.S. import, valued at $331.6 billion, up 32 percent from 2010. Rising crude oil prices, rather than higher crude oil import volumes, were the key driver of the increased value of crude oil imports.