Natural gas plays a vital role in the U.S. energy supply and in achieving the nation's economic and environmental goals. One of several supply options involves increasing imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to ensure that American consumers have adequate supplies of natural gas for the future.
Natural gas consumption in the United States is expected to increase slightly from about 24.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2011 to 26.6 Tcf by 2035. Currently, most of the demand for natural gas in the United States is met with domestic production and imports via pipeline from Canada. A small percentage of gas supplies are imported and received as liquefied natural gas. A significant portion of the world's natural gas resources are considered "stranded" because they are located far from any market. Transportation of LNG by ship is one method to bring this stranded gas to the consumer.
LNG is principally used for transporting natural gas to markets, where it is regasified and distributed as pipeline natural gas. It can be used in natural gas vehicles, although it is more common to design vehicles to use compressed natural gas. Its relatively high cost of production and the need to store it in expensive cryogenic tanks have prevented its widespread use in commercial applications.
LNG is produced by taking natural gas from a production field, removing impurities, and liquefying the natural gas. In the liquefaction process, the gas is cooled to a temperature of approximately-260 degrees F at ambient pressure. This condensed liquid form of natural gas takes up about 1/600th of the volume of natural gas at a stove burner tip. The LNG is loaded onto double-hulled ships which are used for both safety and insulating purposes. Once the ship arrives at the receiving port, the LNG is typically off-loaded into well-insulated storage tanks. Regasification is used to convert the LNG back into its gas form, which enters the domestic pipeline distribution system and is ultimately delivered to the end-user.
In 2011, the United States imported 349 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of LNG from seven different exporting countries, with the largest being Trinidad and Tobago. Imports in 2011 decreased by 19 percent from 431 Bcf in 2010. There are currently twelve LNG import terminals located along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The mainland terminals are: Everett, Massachusetts; Cove Point, Maryland; Elba Island, Georgia; Lake Charles, Louisiana; Sabine Pass, Louisiana; Cameron, Louisiana; Golden Pass, Texas; Freeport, Texas; and Gulf LNG, Mississippi. These nine facilities have a total baseload sendout capacity of approximately 16.1 Bcf/day. The offshore terminals are Gulf Gateway Energy Bridge in the Gulf of Mexico and Northeast Gateway and Neptune Deepwater Port located offshore Massachusetts, with a baseload sendout capacity of 1.2 Bcf/day, though Excelerate Energy has announced plans to retire the Gulf Gateway terminal. As of December 2012, FERC reported 13 new or expanded North American LNG import terminal projects that have been approved or proposed, one of which is under construction. FERC also identified 10 North American LNG export terminal projects that have been proposed, one of which is under construction. Some projects include both import and export capabilities.
The Department of Energy has regulatory, policy, and technology responsibilities related to LNG. The Office of Fossil Energy issues authorizations to import and export natural gas, by pipeline or as LNG, and conducts a data collection program to report annual and monthly levels of U.S. natural gas imports and exports.
FE's Office of Oil and Natural Gas supports the development and deployment of technologies that will ensure the safety and surety of LNG vessel transport. Areas of focus include efforts to expand the public’s understanding and acceptance of LNG, LNG safety, and R&D focused on advanced technologies for safe and efficient transportation and storage of LNG.
DOE/NARUC LNG Partnership
State public utility regulators and federal regulatory officials play an important role in the efficient development of LNG as an energy resource.
DOE has partnered with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) to help educate energy decision makers and the public about LNG.
The Partnership is designed to enhance communications with stakeholders to ensure responsible development of state and regional strategies relating to LNG education, resource development and deployment. NARUC's members include agencies from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands that are responsible for regulating the activities of telecommunications, natural gas, electricity and water utilities.