US LNG facilities as export sites
Will new technologies make the United States a natural gas exporting nation?
The world’s first export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) was in 1959, when the Methane Pioneer carried a cargo of LNG from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Canvey Island, United Kingdom. Seven additional cargoes were carried over the next year or so, but discoveries of natural gas deposits in Libya and Algeria soon displaced the UK’s need for LNG from the United States. In addition, domestic demand for natural gas was building in the US, which slowly resulted in it becoming an importer, not an exporter, of natural gas. The LNG facility in Lake Charles was modified for use as an import site and others were constructed in Everett, Massachusetts; Cove Point, Maryland; and Elba Island, Georgia. Meanwhile, a small LNG export facility was opened in Kenai, Alaska. The United States imported so little LNG during the 1980s and early 1990s that the facilities in Cove Point and Elba Island were mothballed, only to be reactivated in 1999. With the recent increase in natural gas use in the United States, several new shoreside and offshore LNG import facilities have been built. Even more were proposed, but many plans were scrapped when actual demand did not match forecasts. Now, a game-changer has appeared on the scene. The somewhat controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing has opened natural gas deposits found in shale to commercial exploitation. This development has the possibility of greatly increasing domestic reserves of natural gas, possibly well in excess of US needs. As a result, we could, in the not-too-distant future, see LNG tankers being loaded in US ports for carriage of LNG to Britain, possibly even to Canvey Island. Déjà vu all over again.