In case you haven’t heard, natural gas production in the United States has shot up in recent years and is expected to keep climbing.
New drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have made us the world’s top producer of natural gas. Additionally, new processes for shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) could make the U.S. a bigger player in international natural-gas markets in the years to come.
This “shale revolution” (and the possibility of it expanding into new markets) is, in many ways, starting here in Keystone Energy Tools’ backyard. That’s because, at present, only one U.S. LNG export facility is fully operational — Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana. In this article, we’ll talk about how other the construction of facilities should help the domestic energy market spread to China (and other trade partners) in the years to come.
The LNG Market Oversupply
2018 got off to a cold start in much of the country, so naturally, the demand for natural gas for heating went up. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in the first week of January, America shattered its previous record for natural gas consumption, pulling 359 billion cubic feet of natural gas from storage to meet demand.
Overall, however, domestic gas production is outpacing domestic demand, and we have too much unsold gas in storage. At the Sabine Pass LNG terminal, located on over 1,000 acres along the Sabine Pass River in Cameron Parish, some 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas is liquefied and exported daily. Such exports are helping us turn our oversupply into profit, but it’s not enough now, and it won’t be enough in the days to come.
Domestic LNG processing is set to explode in the next few years, but the facilities needed to export them aren’t there yet – except for the one in Louisiana. LNG plants like Sabine Pass are made up of trains, which are liquefaction facilities used to “supercool” natural gas for transport on ships (LNG is natural gas cooled to liquid form). In October, Sabine Pass added a fourth train, boosting output by a third.
Another terminal is scheduled to open soon on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, and at least three other terminals in Georgia, Texas and Louisiana are expected to be online by 2019. By then, the U.S. LNG capacity will be the third largest in the world.
Still, unless Congress passes legislation to expedite the process, the United States will find itself at a competitive disadvantage with other LNG exporters (including Australia, Malaysia, Qatar and Russia). Regulatory roadblocks have hampered the construction of more LNG facilities – facilities that could answer the growing demand for America’s natural gas supply.
New Opportunity in China
In 2017, China became the world’s second-biggest importer of liquefied natural gas (behind Japan and just ahead of Korea). The demand was fueled by China’s growing interest in switching from coal to cleaner natural gas for its domestic energy need. Just as the shift from coal to natural gas has done in the U.S., China’s gasification program is intended to improve environmental conditions there.
China’s demand for natural gas is expected to reach 330 billion cubic meters in 2020, up from 206 billion last year, and the United States is well-positioned to capture a significant share of that rising demand. Assuming we can build out the infrastructure that is needed.
What Will It Take?
The U.S. is now a net exporter of natural gas (meaning we export more than we use) for the first time in 60years. U.S. LNG exports would help diversify world energy supplies and enhance global energy security. Clearing the path to the world’s fastest-growing LNG markets (in China and elsewhere) would show that the United States is committed to its role as a global energy leader.
What is needed to turn America’s massive shale-gas supply into a commodity exported to China and other markets? Aside from more export facilities, we need to help countries build the regasification and distribution facilities they need to import our LNG. One encouraging trend gaining traction is regasification facilities on ships. These ships can go to wherever the purchasing country has constructed its pipeline network and make it easier for U.S. producers to make inroads into new international markets.
LNG Frequently Asked Questions (courtesy of Cheniere Energy)
What is LNG?
LNG is liquefied natural gas (methane) that has been cooled to an extremely cold temperature (-260° F/ -162.2° C). At standard atmospheric conditions, methane is a vapor, not to be confused with gasoline, which is a liquid.
How is LNG shipped?
Specially designed ships are used to transport LNG to U.S. terminals. They have double hulls and are constructed of specialized materials that are capable of safely storing LNG at temperatures of -260° F/ -162.2° C.
Where do ships unload LNG?
Ships unload LNG at specially designed terminals where the LNG is pumped from the ship to insulated storage tanks at the terminal. LNG is also converted back to gas at the terminal, which is connected to natural gas pipelines that transport the gas to where it is needed. Specially designed trucks may also be used to deliver LNG to other storage facilities in different locations.
How is LNG stored?
LNG is stored in double-walled, insulated tanks that are designed to prevent any gas from escaping. There is also a dike or impounding wall around the tank that is capable of containing the entire volume of the tank, in the unlikely event of a spill. This would prevent any LNG from flowing off the site.
Is LNG explosive?
In its liquid state, LNG is not explosive. When LNG is heated and becomes a gas, the gas is not explosive if it is unconfined. Natural gas is only flammable within a narrow range of concentrations in the air (5% to 15%). Less air does not contain enough oxygen to sustain a flame, while more air dilutes the gas too much for it to ignite.
How is public safety addressed?
In the event of a spill, LNG vapors will disperse with the prevailing wind. Cold LNG vapor will appear as a white cloud. To keep the public safe, flammable vapor (gas) dispersion exclusion zones are established for LNG facilities.
Fire protection equipment is paramount to safety in the event of a LNG fire. If LNG is spilled in the presence of a flame, a localized fire will result. Since this fire would burn with intense heat, thermal exclusion zones are also established. Flammable vapor and thermal exclusion zones are determined to keep the public at a safe distance from LNG facilities.
How are LNG tankers and facilities being kept secure?
Security measures for land-based LNG facilities and onshore portions of marine terminals are required by U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. Examples of these requirements include security patrols, protective enclosures, lighting, monitoring equipment, and alternative power sources. Interstate natural gas companies receive security updates and alerts on a regular basis from federal agencies, including the FBI.