The United States is expected to become a net exporter of natural gas on an average annual basis by 2018, according to the recently released Annual Energy Outlook 2017 (AEO2017) Reference case. The transition to net exporter is driven by declining pipeline imports, growing pipeline exports, and increasing exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). In most AEO2017 cases, the United States is also projected to become a net exporter of total energy in the 2020s in large part because of increasing natural gas exports.
In 2016, the United States was a net importer of natural gas, with net imports of 0.9 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), or 2.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d). As several LNG export projects currently under construction are completed, LNG exports are expected to make up a growing share of natural gas exports and to surpass pipeline exports of natural gas by 2020.
The Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana became the first operating LNG export facility in the Lower 48 states in 2016. By 2021, four LNG export facilities currently under construction are expected to be completed. Combined, these five plants are expected to have an operational export capacity of 9.2 billion cubic feet per day. After 2021, projected U.S. exports of LNG grow at a more modest rate as U.S. natural gas faces growing competition from other global LNG suppliers.
U.S. exports of natural gas by pipeline to Mexico are also expected to increase. U.S. exports to Mexico have doubled since 2009 and are projected to continue rising through at least 2020 as pipeline projects currently under construction are completed.