The Absurdity of US Natural Gas Exports
Posted on March 31, 2014 by Gail Tverberg
1. How much natural gas is the United States currently extracting?
(a) Barely enough to meet its own needs
(b) Enough to allow lots of exports
(c) Enough to allow a bit of exports
(d) The United States is a natural gas importer
Answer: (d) The United States is a natural gas importer, and has been for many years. The EIA is forecasting that by 2017, we will finally be able to meet our own natural gas needs.
There is even discussion that at the low level in storage and current rates of production, it may not be possible to fully replace the natural gas in storage before next fall.
2. How much natural gas is the United States talking about exporting?
(a) A tiny amount, less than 5% of what it is currently producing.
(b) About 20% of what it is currently producing.
(c) About 40% of what it is currently producing.
(d) Over 60% of what it is currently producing.
The correct answer is (d) Over 60% what it is currently producing. If we look at the applications for natural gas exports found on the Energy.Gov website, we find that applications for exports total 42 billion cubic feet a day, most of which has already been approved.* This compares to US 2013 natural gas production of 67 billion cubic feet a day. In fact, if companies applying for exports build the facilities in, say, 3 years, and little additional natural gas production is ramped up, we could be left with less than half of current natural gas production for our own use.
*This is my calculation of the sum, equal to 38.51 billion cubic feet a day for Free Trade Association applications (and combined applications), and 3.25 for Non-Free Trade applications.
3. How much are the United States’ own natural gas needs projected to grow by 2030?
a. No growth
If we believe the US Energy Information Administration, US natural gas needs are expected to grow by only 12% between 2013 and 2030 (answer (b)). By 2040, natural gas consumption is expected to be 23% higher than in 2013. This is a little surprising for several reasons. For one, we are talking about scaling back coal use for making electricity, and we use almost as much coal as natural gas. Natural gas is an alternative to coal for this purpose.
Furthermore, the EIA expects US oil production to start dropping by 2020 (Figure 3, below), so logically we might want to use natural gas as a transportation fuel too....